Installing five separate solar panel arrays to generate renewable energy is worth the investment; spending money on backup battery storage, not so much. That was a key finding Town Engineer Catherine Christoff reported in the Basalt Forward 2030 Solar Project Update at the Basalt Town Council’s regular meeting Tuesday night.
Cristoff told council members that sites chosen for solar arrays are at the El Jebel bus lot, the roof of the Basalt Elementary School, in a field at Basalt High School and on its auxiliary building rooftops, and on top of the Basalt Public Works Building under construction.
Energy savings were estimated to be more than $37,000 a year, although the cost of the arrays’ operation and maintenance must be subtracted from that, said Donald Chung, renewable energy development director for McKinstry, the firm hired to do the analysis. The arrays, which will cost up to $1.1 million, are expected to be installed by early 2023. The amount could be cut in half if the Town of Basalt receives a grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, Cristoff said.
Mayor Bill Kane said he was disappointed that the Solar Project team could not also recommend spending $1.4 million on battery storage, due to its 10-year life cycle and limited holding capacity. He acknowledged that storage technology is improving so quickly, “It’s better to be putting money into power generation, not storage,” until the price comes down.
Solar installations segued neatly into the public hearing and first reading on proposed amendments to Basalt’s communitywide sustainable building regulations and beneficial electrification for commercial and residential construction. Amendments are spelled out in an 82-page document heavily highlighted in yellow. The Town’s Green Codes Committee asked for feedback on the changes from more than 600 building industry professionals. Senior Planning Director Sara Nadolny said that “no point that was raised was a deal killer.” She called the building industry response to the revised code “encouraging.”
Adoption of the sustainable building regulations is expected to add less than 5% to the total cost of a project, Nadolny said. Building permit applicants may ask for an exemption by presenting their hardship or reason why they cannot comply with new requirements. New structures and remodels under 750 square feet would not need to comply with the amended code, she said.
Councilor Elyse Hottel said she was happy to hear this, since having to meet the requirements could reduce a private landowner’s incentive to provide affordable housing by building an Additional Dwelling Unit (ADU).
Pushback to Basalt’s drive to achieve 100% electrification came from two employees of the Fireplace Company in Carbondale, which installs gas fireplaces and stoves. The names of the two women were not clarified before The Sopris Sun’s deadline.
One speaker said that “a bi-system is the better way to go,” in the event of electricity outages. Another who spoke via Zoom pointed out that it costs a lot to live in the Roaring Fork Valley, and that electricity only made it more expensive while natural gas costs less.
Mary Weiner, energy efficiency administrator for Holy Cross Energy, countered these concerns, via Zoom. According to Weiner, Black Hills Energy’s natural gas rates “tripled in January, making electricity rates competitive.” She also said that electricity is better for health and safety. Weiner noted studies that show that having natural gas is “the equivalent of having a smoker in your house.”
One of the women objecting to total electrification commented that coal is what generates electricity. Weiner explained that Holy Cross Energy buys little coal, and that 50% of its energy sources are from renewables, with a target of 100%.
Update: According to Black Hills Energy, the average monthly bill for customers in Eagle, Garfield and Pitkin counties went from $114.46 to $117.34 on Jan. 1, 2022, “an average monthly change of $2.88 or 3.3% per month for an average monthly household usage of 86 therms (about $1.36 per therm).” Weiner was also quoted saying Holy Cross Energy buys little coal, while their website clarifies they get nearly 31% of their power from coal (www.holycross.com/system-specifications/).
The council unanimously approved a motion to adopt the new ordinances and set the public hearing and second reading for Sept. 27.
As the last part of the night’s discussion on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the council considered a draft resolution on its adoption of a “Roadmap to Net Zero” by 2031, to complement its revised building code.
In other business, the town’s water utility administrator Jenny Aragon reported that the Invoice Cloud Online Utility Payment is now “live.” The new system allows water customers to pay their bills online, but they can still drop off a check or send it by mail.
Councilors approved the hiring of JVA Inc. for $209,000 to develop the Basalt Water Utility Master Plan for future capital improvements such as water treatment, storage and distribution. Councilor Hottel asked if there had been an analysis of the water’s “carrying capacity” to gauge for growth. Mayor Kane seemed tickled when he reminded councilors that Basalt has abundant sources of clean water and very senior rights, dating to 1891.