By Joe Smyth | email@example.com | @joesmyth
Co-op considers policy change that would doom Fraser solar project, others
Plans for a solar power array at the Fraser wastewater treatment plant would be derailed if the Mountain Parks Electric Board of Directors rolls back a key renewable energy policy.
During its July 13 board meeting, Mountain Parks Electric board members and staff discussed how the electric cooperative should respond to growing interest in low cost solar power from homeowners and towns in Grand County.
Mountain Parks Electric Manager of Communications & Member Relations Rob Taylor explained at the board meeting that the steep decline in solar power costs in recent years means that more Mountain Parks Electric members are now able to pursue solar projects that deliver electricity at a price that “beats all our rates, we can’t compete with that… With our rates going up and solar going down, it presents a real eye-opener for us.”
One option presented to the Board by Mountain Parks Electric General Manager Tom Sifers would be to reduce the maximum size of “net metered” residential solar power systems from 25 kilowatts down to 10 kilowatts, and for commercial solar power systems from 250 kilowatts down to 25 kilowatts – a 90 percent reduction.
Net metering allows homeowners and businesses that install solar panels to sell any excess electricity back to the grid at the retail price.
Fraser solar project on the line
If Mountain Parks Electric reduces the size of net metered commercial solar power systems, it would derail the solar plans for the Fraser wastewater treatment plant. The town of Fraser is pursuing a 200 kilowatt solar array at the wastewater treatment plant, which serves Fraser and the town of Winter Park and accounts for the majority of Fraser’s municipal electricity demand. According to Fraser Town Manager Jeff Durbin, electricity costs for the wastewater treatment plant run about $180,000 per year, and a solar panel array could reduce those costs.
But if Mountain Parks Electric rolls back its net metering policy for commercial systems, Durbin said, “We wouldn’t be able to pursue this solar project.” Durbin requested that Mountain Parks Electric not change its net metering policy.
Mountain Parks Electric General Manager Tom Sifers acknowledged at the board meeting that the electric cooperative had not reached out to towns, homeowners, businesses, or other cooperative members about potential changes to its renewable energy policies. However, Mountain Parks Electric board member Peggy Smith, whose district includes Fraser, said in an interview that she expected the electric cooperative would consult with towns before it proceeded with any policy changes.
Mountain Parks Electric Board President Greg Norwick urged staff to discourage the towns from pursuing their own solar projects, and to try and sell them on the cooperative’s “commitment to the community, and employment and dollars that we spread throughout the community.” Norwick added, “I’d go up there and wrangle them.”
Residential solar projects could be impacted
In addition to the Fraser wastewater solar project, Mountain Parks Electric staff and board members expressed concerns with homeowners’ growing interest in residential solar arrays. A solar installation company called New Power has recently been offering solar leases to homeowners in Grand County.
New Power urged Mountain Parks Electric not to change its net metering policies.
“Homeowners within the Mountain Parks Electric cooperative have expressed tremendous interest in going solar with New Power,” said Thomas Shaffer, CEO of New Power, “Unfortunately, the proposed changes to the net metering program could have a negative impact on their opportunity. Grid-tied solar systems are a net benefit to MPE as they provide clean renewable energy and reduce the peak-hour burden on the grid. It is our hope the net metering program will continue without changes.”
Vice President of Sustainability for Aspen Skiing Co., Auden Schendler, also criticized efforts to roll back renewable energy policies. In an email, Schendler said that “this sort of downgrade to allowable solar capacity appears to be the kind of regressive utility politics played by dying co-ops. You can’t fight the solar revolution, so it’s much better business to get on board the bus rather than let it run you over. If I were a businessman or homeowner in the region served by that utility, I’d be looking for candidates to run for the board who realize utilities are going to have to engage the clean energy revolution.”
Aspen Skiing Co. and KSL Capital Partners are in the process of acquiring Intrawest and its resorts including Winter Park Ski Resort, which is among the largest electricity users in Mountain Parks Electric’s service territory.
Electric cooperatives can put customers first, but are mostly unregulated
Mountain Parks Electric’s efforts to respond to the new dynamic of cheap solar power is part of a broader trend within the utility industry. As the New York Times reported this month, investor-owned utilities have succeeded in slowing the growth of residential solar power by lobbying states to roll back net metering and other renewable energy policies.
However, a key difference is that Mountain Parks Electric is an electric cooperative whose customers are also its owners. Unlike investor-owned utilities which may seek to maintain investor profits at the expense of customers, Mountain Parks Electric is a nonprofit, which should be better able to focus on what is best for its members.
But because it is a cooperative, Mountain Parks Electric is largely unregulated by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. Investor-owned utilities seeking changes to renewable energy policies must convince state regulators or legislatures. In contrast, electric cooperatives like Mountain Parks Electric can change their own rules without oversight from state regulators.
The Mountain Parks Electric Board of Directors ultimately took no action on net metering at its July 13 meeting and decided to continue to study the issue. Board members and staff also discussed the possibility of pursuing other approaches to respond to competition from low cost solar.
Mountain Parks Electric Manager of Communications & Member Relations Taylor said, “We’re going to have to make some choices, and one of those could be getting into the solar industry.”
crossposted from Winter Park Times
Colorado Public Utilities Commissioner questions "whether or not Tri-State has been candid with us"
Rural America could power a renewable economy - but first we need to solve coal debt
Tri-State explores FERC rate regulation to limit state oversight
Poudre Valley Electric sets "80 by 2030" carbon free goal
Guzman Energy proposal would finance retirement of Tri-State coal plants, add 1.2 gigawatts of new wind and solar power
Colorado Public Utilities Commission will oversee Tri-State resource planning
Colorado communities and state Energy Office urge Public Utilities Commission oversight of Tri-State
Reports examine the impacts of Tri-State's high wholesale power costs
Tri-State executive involved with anti-Clean Air Act group since 2005
US Congressional Committee requests details of Tri-State funding to anti-Clean Air Act group
Renewable energy projects stalled in 2018 among Tri-State member co-ops
Second co-op asks Tri-State to pull “Better Together” ads
Tri-State won’t allow co-op members to attend annual meeting
Tri-State expects member co-ops to support bylaw changes at annual meeting
Rocky Mountain Farmers Union calls on Tri-State to adopt flexible contracts and more clean energy
Co-ops in Colorado push for change at Tri-State
Will Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska remain reliant on coal?
Tri-State ad campaign tells co-ops they’re “better together”
La Plata Electric concerned Tri-State debt will lead to higher rates
Colorado Public Utilities Commission asserts jurisdiction over Tri-State
More Colorado co-ops announce clean energy goals
Ski industry climate change efforts shift to electric utilities and their regulators
Public Utilities Commission rejects Tri-State motion to exclude Colorado Energy Office from exit charge case
Tri-State claims that co-ops "have intervened on Tri-State's behalf at the PUC” don’t add up
Colorado state legislators urge Public Utilities Commission to determine Tri-State exit charge
United Power says Tri-State policies are turning away large customers
Next PUC Commissioner John Gavan "consensus choice" of Governors Hickenlooper and Polis
Tri-State policy change discourages battery projects in rural Colorado and New Mexico
Colorado Public Utilities Commission orders Tri-State to "satisfy or answer" exit charge complaint from Delta Montrose Electric
United Power seeks solutions to "increasingly outmoded G&T business models"
Clean Energy Means Business Summit highlights renewable energy opportunities and challenges in rural Colorado
Governor-elect Jared Polis says moving Colorado toward more renewable energy will be a top priority
Electric cooperative officials discuss cheap renewable energy and an “eroding monopoly”
Delta Montrose Electric members vote for new financing options, supporting a potential buyout of Tri-State contract
Poudre Valley Electric requests Tri-State policy changes and fuel mix study
Holy Cross Energy plans to shift away from coal, aiming for 70% renewable energy
What do corporate renewable energy commitments mean for electric utilities?
Colorado Energy Plan approval will mean new renewable energy investments in rural Colorado
Report: Tri-State could save $600 million by shifting from coal to renewable energy
Delta Montrose Electric seeks new financing options to end contract with Tri-State
Wind energy jobs in rural Colorado attract bipartisan support
Colorado Energy Plan analysis shows switching from coal to renewable energy will boost jobs and local tax revenue
Poudre Valley Electric and Xcel Energy Colorado President win national awards from Smart Electric Power Alliance
Latest coal plant subsidy proposal could hit electricity bills in the West
Moody’s report: “High quality renewable resources” could help Tri-State and Basin Electric navigate rising carbon transition risks
Senator Heinrich highlights “frustrations in New Mexico” with Tri-State’s limits on local solar
Moody’s report shows Tri-State’s coal plants are more expensive than new renewable energy
Tri-State’s limits on local energy development are a growing problem for co-op members
Governor Hickenlooper discusses Tri-State at the Climate Leadership Conference
Bids for Xcel’s Colorado Energy Plan include a proposal for the world’s largest battery
New wind and solar power in Colorado is now cheaper than existing coal plants
Companies' 100% renewable energy goals are getting results in Colorado
What does cheap solar mean for electric cooperatives?
Colorado towns and cities are helping push utilities to embrace renewable energy
How are electric cooperatives navigating the transition from coal to cheap clean energy?
Blocked from building more solar projects, United Power shifts to community batteries
Economic reality sets in for Tri-State efforts to expand the Holcomb coal plant
Solar projects in the works in Grand and Jackson counties
Mountain Parks Electric grapples with solar