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 October 22, 1999

County firms backing wind power

The Ponnequin Wind Facility marks the border between Colorado and Wyoming. Twenty-nine wind machines cover only a small portion of the area.

They are insignificant to a landscape primarily used for ranching and farming but increasingly important to a number of Boulder County businesses that have opted for wind power.

In response to the Grassroots Campaign for Wind Power, a program developed by the Land and Water (LAW) Fund of the Rockies, more than 200 Boulder County businesses are supporting renewable energy by designating either part or all of their total energy costs to wind power.

In order to educate the market and make wind energy a success at Ponnequin, Colorado’s first wind facility, the LAW Fund, which is a division of the Environmental Center of the Rockies, is working in conjunction with a number of utility companies in the state that offer green pricing.

“Education is the number one market barrier,´ said Rudd Mayer, green marketing program director at the Environmental Center. “The problem is that it isn’t cost effective for utilities to create that kind of market awareness.”

Currently Public Service Co. is the only wind-power provider for Boulder County. Across the state there are almost 20 utility companies that offer green pricing.

Since the program started, 1,300 businesses have been approached with the plan. Small businesses make up the majority of those currently participating, of which more than 95 percent are located in Boulder County. Of a total of about 250-260 businesses, only five are in Denver – largely because the effort was focused on Boulder.

“Boulder County has come through in a big way,´ said John Halley, green marketing coordinator for the Environmental Center.

Participants can choose to have either all or part of their electricity supplied by wind energy, but a minimum of 5 percent is required. Halley said the average customer uses 500 to 600 kilowatt hours, which is equivalent to burning 1 to 2 pounds of coal.

The business rate for wind power is approximately six cents, the second lowest in the country. Coal costs a little more than two cents, and solar power costs around 12 cents to produce.

Even though wind power is still more costly, when focusing on the long-term benefits, renewable energy sources avoid the severe environmental impacts of the fossil fuel cycle, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

Ron Ryder, a Colorado State University professor of fishery and wildlife biology, has been studying for two years the effect of wind machines on wildlife living near wind farms. And according to his research, determining the environmental impact of wind power depends on the type of tower used and the operating speed.

At the Ponnequin Wind Facility, the machines are a later model and at 20 to 25 rpms, which is pretty slow, Ryder said. As an additional precaution, the machines were painted with a special UV-reflective paint to deter birds.

Unlike other wind farms, the machines at Ponnequin haven’t been a threat to eagles or hawks, Ryder said, although there have been some problems with horned larks and bats. But a division of wildlife survey checked that no endangered species were living in the area before the facility was built.

Of equal importance to the environmental benefits of wind power is the increased economic competition it poses to other non-renewable energy sources. Since it was first offered in the 1980s, wind power has seen a huge decrease with rates falling more than 30 cents. And in the next three to five years, Halley predicts wind power will cost the same as coal.

But information from a report on renewable energy by Robert Bradley, president of the Institute for Energy Research, states that on the average “renewable capacity is twice as expensive as new capacity from the most economical fossil-fuel alternative and triple the cost of surplus electricity.”

But even though renewable sources may not be as economical now as traditional sources, over the past few years communities have started to look beyond the short-term benefits of these non-renewable sources, realizing that the environmental return on this type of investment may be more important in the long run than a monetary one.

“Communities need to embrace this as an ethic as they have recycling.”

In more and more communities, green pricing, a voluntary program requiring participants to pay extra for energy, is becoming more common, Halley said. Currently, there are about 50 programs in 19 states. And, according to Halley, wind energy is the leading source for green pricing.

Colorado currently has five major utilities in the state offering green pricing for wind power: Public Service, Fort Collins Utilities, Holy Cross Electric Association, Colorado Springs Utilities and Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association.

“If you’re not green you’re going to lose some customers,” Halley said of the rise in green pricing programs. “As more people order it, they’ll build more machines.” The Arlington site in Wyoming is approaching 55 to 60 megawatts, which is close to 1 percent of the state’s energy.

As an incentive for participating in the program, businesses receive a number of promotional benefits, including posters, window stickers, Web and radio spots on 10 to 15 radio stations thanking businesses for their commitment.

“It’s like voting with your dollars, and it’s affecting the future of electricity. It’s more bang for the buck, it really adds up the amount of pollution savings.”

A number of businesses have surpassed the 5 percent required for joining and have become completely wind-powered.

One World Arts, a Boulder-based graphic design firm, is completely wind-powered.

Jill Ellis, who owns One World Arts with her husband, Ron, said she always has been environmentally conscious.

“It was just the right thing to do,” she said. “It’s nice to know that we’re part of maintaining a clean environment. Hopefully other businesses will follow suit.”

Beyond participating in the program, One World Arts also is designing posters for all businesses that have signed up for wind power.

According to Mayer of the LAW Fund, the commitment of businesses such as One World Arts to the wind power program shows real community spirit.

“They are really key in developing wind power in Colorado. That has not only made us unique in the nation, it means jobs and it means that they are really making a difference for Colorado’s future.”

And as Colorado grows, Mayer said the need will increase.

For information on wind power or green pricing programs, or to sign up for wind power, check out the program’s Web site at www.cogreenpower.org.

The Ponnequin Wind Facility marks the border between Colorado and Wyoming. Twenty-nine wind machines cover only a small portion of the area.

They are insignificant to a landscape primarily used for ranching and farming but increasingly important to a number of Boulder County businesses that have opted for wind power.

In response to the Grassroots Campaign for Wind Power, a program developed by the Land and Water (LAW) Fund of the Rockies, more than 200 Boulder County businesses are supporting renewable energy by designating either part or all of their total energy costs to wind power.

In order to educate the…

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