Meeting with Fort Collins Utilities

On November 5th I met with Fort Collins Utility (FCU) employees John Phelan, Rhonda Gatsky, and Leland Keller to discuss progress on the Utility Owned Distributed Solar (UODS) project.

UODS is the utility leasing property upon which to install their own solar panels. This should be the most affordable way to do solar on rooftops and parking lots. We are asking FCU to thoroughly research and vet the idea. The goal is to find the most financially sustainable and socially equitable way for our public utility to expand solar without using green-spaces (undeveloped lands).

Quick recap:

In the summer of 2017 CforSE members asked City Council to direct FCU to explore UODS . Council did so in September 2017. FCU presented “results” in May 2018. CforSE challenged those results and members asked FCU to research a model for public schools. In April 2019 FCU asked Poudre School District if they could lease their roofs. FCU didn’t have any research or modeling to show them and PSD said “No”. I went to council in July 2019 and asked for FCU to develop modeling for commercial scale projects (roofs or parking lots over 20,000 sq ft, such as a school). The meeting on November 5th was to discuss FCU’s new modeling.

At the meeting:

FCU had not done the modeling we asked for. They did update some of their numbers which gained a little more accuracy. There were still basic mistakes in their formulas, out-dated inputs, and guess work in their assumptions. Worst of all they did not do calculations for medium and large size projects (the most important factor). Over two years since Council directed them to research the idea FCU had done very little and what they did do was inaccurate. I let them know that we are not satisfied.

I did, however, bring my own set of calculations derived by using National Renewable Energy Lab research. We discussed the differences and agreed that we would each seek out more accurate numbers. John committed to exploring medium and large size project potential and to begin to identify potential property owners to host those larger projects. We talked about funding possibilities and a timeline of 2023 -2024 to get the first project in the ground.

This meeting represented the greatest progress to date and I feel good that we can meet a 2023 timeline. But only if we keep up the pressure. City staff and leadership have demonstrated time and again that citizen pressure is continuously needed to get results. Thank you for your continued support!

Organizing in Longmont & Loveland

In Loveland & Longmont (as in most other places) our door to door organizing has revealed that people strongly value an energy policy that supports the local economy in an environmentally responsible and socially equitable way. That is why we are asking our public electric utility to thoroughly explore and vet the Utility Ownership of Distributed Solar (UODS) model.

UODS is different then current solar models - net metering and power purchase agreements (PPA). With net metering the utility buys power from a solar owner at the retail rate (limited to 120% of owner’s electric usage) . This is problematic because non-solar Longmont customers are paying a 100% profit margin to solar owning customers. That is not very socially equitable or financially sustainable as solar adoption grows. It also limits solar to those willing and able to expend capital. PPAs are cheaper but typically occur on remote open space or agricultural land and give our non-profit utility dollars to out of town investors. PPAs also rely on tax credits that are set to expire in 2022. Private investment in PPA’s might expire with the tax credits.

With UODS the utility leases space in town upon which to install their own solar panels. The property owner gets a rent check and the panels (and power they produce) belong to the utility. UODS is far cheaper than net metering and competitive with PPAs. UODS keeps our energy dollars in the community by leasing local roofs and parking lots (maybe schools). Because the solar resource is owned by the utility the costs and benefits are distributed equally among customers. Property owners can lease much more space for solar because they don’t have to invest the capital and are not limited to 120% of usage. The cost is that the utility has to find the capital and it takes more work to own the resource than to buy the power from someone else. But that’s why we have a municipal utility in the first place. We built a coal plant (in 1980) and transmission lines because it is cheaper to own the resource than to buy electricity from Xcel Energy.

So what’s the hold up? This is all pretty new. Just a few years ago solar was expensive and nobody thought it would become cheap this soon. Platte River Power Authority (PRPA, owned by Longmont, Fort Collins, Estes Park ,and Loveland) provides our electricity and is convening a study group to explore distributed solar strategies. We need to make sure that Longmont utility leaders ask the study group to include UODS.

If you live in Longmont please email Mayor Bagley and ask him to direct the PRPA distributed energy strategy group to explore UODS. If you live in Loveland please email Mayor Jacki Marsh.

Thank you!

A Better Solar Policy for Fort Collins

In the past year CforSE has generated over 1,000 citizen letters to city council asking them to explore leasing roofs and parking lots to install City owned solar panels. This is the most affordable way for the community to maximize our solar potential without covering undeveloped land with panels. There are roughly three square miles of available roof/parking lots in town (the size of Horsetooth Reservoir). Last September council directed staff to explore the leasing idea.

 Seven months later staff presented little more than a request for two more years to research options. This might sound reasonable until you consider that they’ve had ten years to evolve the solar program and haven’t substantially changed a thing.

 The result of our ten-year-old policy is that lower income residents who don’t have solar are subsidizing a profit margin for residents and businesses that do have solar. The City could adopt policies now that fairly compensate solar owners and encourage solar development on parking lots, rooftops, and marginal lands like the landfill.

 The longer the City delays, the more “greenfields” will be covered with solar. In fact the City has already contracted with a project on agricultural land in north Fort Collins. You can see this project from the Horsetooth foothills. Imagine an area of solar panels the size of the reservoir. Those panels should be on rooftops and parking lots, not agricultural land and greenfields.

 As citizens, we need to hold the city council accountable to holding the city staff accountable to implementing policy that reflects our values. Your short email will make a difference!

Tell our City Leaders that you want City staff to move quickly to adopt solar policy that maximizes the potential for rooftop and parking lot solar.

Send your email to: cityleaders@fcgov.com

Please cc: cforse.fred@gmail.com

Thank you!

Rush Hour Commuter Rail Update

We’re making progress! It appears that letters from CforSE members are making a difference at the Boulder County Commissioners’ office. We will be sending letters directly to RTD now and keeping up the pressure on the county to continue to advocate for Rush Hour Rail.

Your help is needed! Please email the RTD Board of Directors barbara.mcmanus@rtd-denver.com. Ask them for their response to the letter from Commuting Solutions dated Aug. 21, 2018 concerning Peak Service Northwest Rail.

Let me know if you get a reply and we will do the same. RTD needs continuos poking to prioritize this project. Thank you!


August 21, 2018

Mr. Doug Tisdale
Chair, RTD Board of Directors 1600 Blake Street
Denver, CO 80202

Dear Chair Tisdale,

Commuting Solutions and the US 36 Mayors & Commissioners Coalition communities of Adams County, Boulder, Boulder County, Louisville, Superior, City & County of Broomfield, Longmont, Lafayette, Erie and Westminster submitted to the RTD on November 8, 2017 a letter, requesting you proceed with further evaluation of the Option 1 Peak Service Northwest Rail as the preferred scenario. In addition, we urged the RTD to proceed with engaging the BNSF in the exploration so they could provide a cost estimate necessary to implement Peak Service Northwest Rail.

We understand RTD met with the BNSF in May 2018 to discuss the scenario and to ask for a cost estimate. We also understand a follow-up letter was sent to the BNSF in June.

We write today to ask that you expedite conversations with the BNSF, as it has almost been a year since we selected Option 1 as the preferred scenario. We wish to continue to partner with the RTD and explore creative options to deliver Northwest Rail sooner than the 2040 timeframe. Continuing the evaluation is of particular importance this year, as the state considers a ballot issue that could ultimately be used as seed funding to further the Peak Service Northwest Rail exploration. We are already receiving comments and concerns from the public as we begin our advocacy efforts for the ballot issue’s successful passage and would like to have recent information to provide in response to these comments.

Thank you for your time and consideration of this matter. We look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

David Driscoll Board Chairperson

cc: US 36 Mayors & Commissioners Coalition

Fort Collins Adopts Goal of 100% Renewable Electricity by 2030

By a vote of 6-1 City Council passed the resolution. Councilman Ross Cunniff appeared to be the most vocal proponent of the goal. Mayor Troxell talked about how this will help to shape our electricity systems. Councilman Horak said that any cost increases are likely to come from utility operations, not as a result of renewable electricity. Councilwoman Stephens and councilman Overbeck voiced support and thanks to all the citizens who worked to make this possible. Councilman Ray Martinez made several last minute wordsmithing changes and didn’t seem to know much about what was going on. Councilman Ken Summers voted no because he doesn’t want to make a promise that he might not be able to keep, although he says that he hopes that we can achieve the goal. Now maybe we can finally move on to the fun stuff!

Actions to support 100% Renewable Electricity in Fort Collins

Here is the exhaustive work done by City staff to develop the resolution.

Here are some ways that you can help:

  • Come to 300 LaPorte at 8:30 pm Oct. 2nd and wear our sticker to show your support (also wear a green shirt if you like).

  • Send an email to Cityleaders@fcgov.com to voice your support.

  • Call Mayor Wade Troxell and ask him to pass the resolution, 970-219-8940

Your ideas and heartfelt statements about the need for 100% renewable electricity by 2030 will have an impact on Council members. Here are some possible ideas that you can choose from to emphasize in your email or phone call:

● The effects of climate change call for urgent action, especially the conversion to clean energy.

● Achieving needed changes—like 100% renewables—requires setting goals (ones that, if necessary, can be adjusted in the future).

● A commitment to 100% renewable electricity by 2030 supports the emissions reduction goals in the city’s Climate Action Plan (CAP).

● Conversion to clean energy will reduce air and water pollution in Fort Collins, the Front Range, and all of Colorado.

● Renewable energy has economic advantages, including decreasing costs.

● Fast-changing battery and storage technology will solve problems with intermittent energy.

● Exploding growth in Fort Collins and the Front Range requires more sustainable directions.

● A commitment to renewable energy will encourage forward-looking businesses to come to this area and remain here.

● Renewable energy will enhance the growth of solar, wind, and other clean energy businesses and employment.

● Your own reasons for supporting 100% renewables by 2030.

Thanks, hope to see ya there!

Get On With It Already!

For over a year now our City leadership and staff have been debating and deliberating over whether or not to adopt a resolution to set a goal of sourcing 100% of our electricity from renewable resources by 2030. The debates over resolutions, and goals, and long term plans drive me crazy! Ask anyone, “Do you think we should minimize pollution from energy sources?” Almost everyone will say “YES!” Ask, “when should we do it?”. The answer is “As Soon As Possible!”

How does it take a year to say that setting a goal, which everyone wants to strive towards, is a good idea? Adopting a resolution is like making a proclamation. It has no legal standing. It simply says, “We think this is a good idea.” This is the most luke warm thing that could possibly be done and our City has dedicated valuable staff time and resources for over a year debating this. Longmont took about a month in January to get it done. 80 other cities and two states have done it. The upside of taking so long to deliberate on this is that the community has been engaged. The outcomes of that outreach are completely predictable (the enviros support bold action, the Chamber of Commerce is afraid of change), but at least awareness has been raised.

In the mean time, the climate keeps changing and tangible solutions are out there waiting to be deployed. To be fair, the City is pursuing wind and solar options, but they are soooo slow and the actions they are taking are yesterday's news. Innovative they are not. We need to be taking bold steps to promote solar on rooftops and parking lots. We need to aggressively pursue electric vehicles. Maybe most importantly, we need to discover and develop our local energy storage solutions. 

CforSE is pushing for real, tangible, concrete actions. A resolution is nice but we have more important things to do. Dear City Council, Get on with it!