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Green power cuts raise questions

Durango city manager says decision necessary based on budget

— Durango city officials are standing by a recent decision to stop purchasing green power from La Plata Electric Association, despite criticism from some who think it sends the wrong message about local sustainable energy efforts.

Durango City Manager Ron LeBlanc made the recommendation this fall when it became necessary to trim the 2009 budget by more than $500,000.

The Durango City Council approved the budget, which included the removal of the green power purchase, earlier this month.



LPEA charges 80 cents more than standard electric rates per 100 kilowatt-hours for its green power blocks, which LeBlanc said adds about $45,000 to the city’s annual electric bill. The city buys about 6,800 green power blocks each month, which represents about 30 percent of all LPEA green power customer purchases.

“The budget caused us to rethink a lot of things that, normally, we just would’ve funded,” he said.



Mark Pearson, the director of the San Juan Citizens’ Alliance, said he was upset when he heard the city was pulling out of the green power program, but he also criticized the cooperative for charging its member customers too much to do the right thing. The city and LPEA could be doing more, he said.

“For Durango to bail out, it means LPEA is going to be scrambling. But they’re still burning coal for their power, and if the city is truly going to be a leader on climate change, they need to walk the talk and figure how to burn clean energy for the electricity they use,” Pearson said.

Durango began purchasing green power blocks in 2007 after the City Council signed the Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement to reduce greenhouse gases.

At the time, the surcharge was $2.50.

Mark Schwantes, LPEA’s director of corporate services, said the rate dropped to $1.25 shortly after the city signed on and then 80 cents early in 2008.

Of the 80 cents, 40 cents is used to purchase power generated from alternative sources such as wind and solar, Schwantes said.

LPEA’s parent company, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, purchases the power from third-party companies including PacifiCorp Power and Rocky Mountain Energy, both of which are headquartered in Salt Lake City.

Schwantes said the remaining 40 cents is invested in local alternative-energy projects throughout LPEA’s service area.

It also is used to fund rebates for LPEA customers who install solar panels on their homes or businesses.

He said 12 Durango homeowners last year received $33,000 in rebates, which are capped at $3,000 each.

He said the loss of the city’s participation could delay the payment of future rebates but will not jeopardize the rebate program itself.

LPEA distributes electricity and provides other services within a 3,370-square-mile area that includes all of La Plata County, Archuleta County and part of Hinsdale, Mineral and San Juan counties, according to its 2007 annual report. In 2007 the co-op bought more than 1 billion kilowatt hours from Tri-State.

LeBlanc said LPEA’s policy of investing in projects throughout its widespread service area was the basis for his recommending the city pull out of the green power program. LeBlanc said he specifically mentioned to councilors a project to fund the installation of solar panels on the roof of Bayfield Middle School.

“I don’t think it makes sense for the city as a business to participate in a program that benefits the citizens of Bayfield,” LeBlanc said.

Mayor Renee Parsons voted in favor of the 2009 budget but said she was not happy that green power was cut entirely. She said she would rather the budget cuts been made as an across-the-board percentage rather than singling out individual items.


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