Steamboat to use city reserves to help fund local solar projects

Yampa Valley Electric Association employee Steve Vestal positions a solar panel at a new solar array being build near YVEA's headquarters on Routt County Road 129 in 2016. (File photo)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs City Council voted unanimously at its regular meeting Tuesday to use $630,157 from the city’s reserves to match a grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs for the installation of solar panels on the city’s wastewater treatment facility.

While council members have preached caution when using funds from the city’s reserves after a drop in sales tax collections in 2020 due to COVID-19, Steamboat Finance Director Kim Weber told council the investment will eventually save the city money in the long term. The money will also come specifically from the fleet fund, an internal service fund used to replace and maintain city fleet, which has $5.1 million in unappropriated reserves.

“This reserve has been established based on expected replacement needs in the future and is used to ensure the city is appropriately saving to replace the fleet at the end of its useful life,” Weber told council Tuesday. “Based on the next 15-year replacement schedule, this loan of $630,157 will not negatively impact the ability to replace the fleet appropriately.”

Specifically, Weber told council she estimated the wastewater treatment plant will see about $57,287 per year in annual utility savings.

The money delegated for the facility is part of a larger project across the Yampa Valley to be more environmentally conscious by transitioning city and county buildings to rely on solar power.

Steamboat, Oak Creek, Hayden, along with Yampa, Routt and Moffat counties received a combined grant from the state for $2.1 million to be split between municipalities for various solar projects.

Council member Sonja Macys, member of the Yampa Valley Electric Association Board, said the partnership across the Yampa Valley is beneficial for all entities and could open doors for future projects, such as more transportation opportunities throughout the state. Macys also said such projects help local governments work closer with utility companies, such as the Yampa Valley Electrical Association.

“I think this grant has kind of brought the utility more into the picture in working with municipalities in a really positive way,” Macys said. “A lot of people like to beat up on these things because they don’t believe that they work, and those are generally comments just to get people to not be interested in them.”

Moffat County has long been home to the Craig Station coal burning plant, though Tri-State Generation hopes to close the plant by 2030. Macys said the transition away from coal has been devastating for Moffat County, and while solar energy is not an exact replacement, she believes solar energy will provide opportunities for jobs and help the state work toward its goal of relying on renewable energy.

“No one should be duped onto believing this is the replacement for the coal industry’s transition away, but this does provide opportunities,” Macys said. “The more that people contribute to the state’s goal, the better we get.”

On the financial side, Macys said after the project is entirely paid off, the money the municipalities save on electricity can be used to fund other sustainable projects.

“As storage technology is getting better and as we’re improving our distribution systems for electricity, people are realizing that renewables are not as shaky as was once thought,” Macys said. “Everyone takes for granted that they can just flip the light on, and people often overlook the importance of how do we work with the utility.”

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