Bustang bus service picking up ridership in Colorado

A Bustang heading toward Vail launches from the Denver Bus Station at mid-afternoon.

Third daily Bustang added as demand from I-70 mountain towns stays strong

by Allen Best

FRISCO, Colo. – In August, the Wall Street Journal reported that city buses were “in a state of steady decline.” That may be true in most cities, but a bus service in Colorado called Bustang, which was launched in 2015 along urbanized interstate corridors, has been steadily adding new riders.

Just yesterday, a daily bus was added between Glenwood Springs and Denver for the duration of winter. Geared for need of mountain town residents, Bustang sends two buses each morning, now two from Glenwood and one  from Vail, stopping in towns along the way, reaching  Denver’s Union Station, the nerve center for mass transit in metropolitan Denver and along the Front Range.

In the afternoon and evening, the two buses reverse course.

The success of the bus routes are part of an evolving approach to transportation in Colorado, one that recognizes limits to the building of transportation infrastructure for individual cars.

“It’s becoming clear to everyone that just building ourselves out of congestion is not an option,” says Andy Karsian, legislative liaison for the Colroado Department of Transportation. Bustang bus routes represent a “multi-faceted approach” that seeks to provide state-wide connectivity, he says.

Feeder routes into the bus service along the interstates is being planned.

Bustangs along I-70 consistently have around 90 riders a day, seven days a week, although it can surge to 150 riders daily during winter. This compares against a maximum 204 seats daily.

Other https://www.ridebustang.comBustangs operate between Denver and Colorado Springs and Fort Collins. Unlike those from the mountains, which are geared to the needs of mountain residents, the Front Range buses operate greater bidirectional schedules. There are buses that depart each morning from Denver, but also buses that depart from Fort Collins and Colorado Springs to Denver.

Buses along the I-25 corridor are more frequent than those on the I-70 corridor. Riders have 14 one-way trips available between Fort Collins and Denver, compared to the four between Denver and mountain communities.

Michael E. Timlin, the bus operations manager for C-DOT, reports that all routes have enjoyed ridership increases. Total bus ridership between Denver and Fort Collins, for example, has quadrupled in two years. But the I-70 Bustangs boast higher ridership per bus, about 36 riders per bus, compared to 8 riders for the buses along I-25.

In March 2017, with heavy traffic on I-70, the buses handled 4,018 passengers, compared to 5,656 for those north from Denver and 5,336 for those south from Denver.

If skiing explains the surge in winter transit, Timlin also credits a high-level of bus ridership that already exists in mountain valleys along I-70. “They’re very transit savvy up there,” he says while pointing out that RFTA, the Aspen-Glenwood bus agency, is the second largest non-urban bus system in the country.

Bus service almost universally requires subsidies, and these are no exception. At the front end was $10.9 million in state funds that came out of 2009 legislation that created a surcharge on auto registrations. The buses along I-70 and I-25 require an annual $3 million subsidy. The added taxes came in the wake of a bridge collapse in Minneapolis and a realization that Colorado’s highway infrastructure had its own safety risks. A small portion of the $200 million in annual revenues was carved out for bus transportation.

If $3 million is guaranteed for operations, expansion of service can be justified only through fare-box recovery. Last year, Bustang took in $1.6 million in revenue, a 53 percent increase over its inaugural year.

Higher levels of comfort and convenience may well explain the success of the buses. These are not your old yellow school buses, nor even a long-haul Greyhound. All of the 51-passenger buses have restrooms, bike racks, and then connections for the digital age: WiFi, 110v outlets, and USB ports.

Who is riding the buses? Timlin points to familiar suspects: baby boomers, now diminishing in their bulk, yet still carrying demographic clout, but also millennials, less inclined than their elders to own cars. That trend, noted some years ago, seems to be carrying forward even as they get older.

“They’re trying to find different avenues than sitting in cars (in congestion), getting frustrated. On the bus, they can take a nap, they can play on a computer, they can watch a movie, they can take back their lives.”

Ken Neubecker occasionally boards the Bustang in Glenwood Springs for trips to Denver. He’s Colorado operations manager for American Rivers, a water advocacy group. The group’s Colorado headquarters is two blocks from Union Station, the Denver terminus for the buses. Other trips require him taking the 16th Street shuttle to state and other offices in the area of the Colorado capital.

Still other times, he has taken the Bustang to Denver and then taken the A-Line train to Denver International Airport.

“I think it’s great,” he says. “It does take longer than driving, but as long as I’m not driving I can make phone calls, I can use the WiFi and my computer, and there’s plenty of leg room,” he says. Too, Bustangs have restrooms—handy, if traffic bogs down in a storm.

Buoyed by the success of Bustang, the Colorado Department of Transportation is now considering expansion from its trunk lines into rural areas. These will be working with local transportation providers and using federal funds. Timlin calls this the “son of Bustang” or, more cumbersomely, rural regional Bustang outrider service.

One new service in the Arkansas Valley will begin daily service in January between Lamar and Pueblo, while another Alamosa-Salida-Pueblo route is scheduled to begin May 1, while a Gunnison-Denver shuttle is to begin in July.

Bustang service replacing the Greyhound service between Grand Junction and Denver is to begin in July along with a bus between Durango and Grand Junction.

If money remains available after that, another option is to extend a line from Frisco to Kremmling and north to Steamboat Springs.

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Report finds zero-net carbon in northern Colorado very doable

Transmission towers near the Rawhide power plant north of Fort Collins. Photo/Allen Best

Shaving carbon from power supply for four Colorado cities ‘very doable’

by Allen Best

Platte River Power Authority was the first utility in Colorado to invest in wind energy. That was in 1998 with the purchase of 6 megawatts of wind generation for consumption by Estes Park, the gateway community to Rocky Mountain National Park, and three other cities at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.

If that was a measly amount compared to today’s massive investments  in renewables,  Platte River is now looking to push the boundaries again. This time it is studying how it might remove its still-heavy smudge of carbon altogether by 2030 and at what cost.

The answer, delivered by consultants at a meeting in Fort Collins this past week, is that carbon neutrality can be achieved but with a price of up 20 percent more for electrical production.

“It seems like it’s doable at first blush, but there are a lot of things to consider going forward,” said Jason E. Frisbie, the chief executive, at the end of a meeting Thursday afternoon in Fort Collins. In addition to Estes park, Fort Collins, Loveland and Longmont together own Platte River, a wholesale electrical generator.

Attainment of the goal would still include emissions of greenhouse gases. Coal plants would be closed down, their production offset by large amounts of wind generation but also solar.

Existing natural gas plants, however, would continue operation and be augmented by new generation from natural gas combined-cycle plants. Under the criteria of “zero-net carbon,” as this carbon neutrality is defined, the emissions from natural gas can be offset by sale of renewables to other utilities.

The mere fact that Platte River is even studying the path toward zero-net carbon is notable.

The study commissioned by Platte River reflects the rapidly changing economics and technology of energy. Even if stripped of handsome federal tax credits, renewables have become competitive.

Lazard’s levelized cost of energy study released on Nov. 2 found that on-shore wind energy costs between $32 to $62 per megawatt, compared to $48 to $78 for gas combined cycle and $60 to $143 for coal.

Also notable is the lack of obvious opposition. During a two-hour meeting, including a lengthy question-and-answer session, there were no challenges to the need to reduce carbon emissions. Instead, the hardest questions may have been whether burning natural gas amounts to a net improvement in greenhouse gas reductions. If polls suggest that climate change action remains a low priority for Coloradans, there is relatively little dispute about the idea of human complicity in warming the planet, primarily the result of combustion of fossil fuels.

Two-thirds of electricity delivered by Platte River is produced by burning coal or natural gas, while a third comes from non-carbon sources, especially from hydropower produced on federal dams. Wind is responsible for 11 percent and solar 2 percent.

The zero-net carbon pathway assumes that Platte River would divest itself of its coal generating capacity. The utility outright owns one coal-fired power plant, the 280-megawatt Rawhide plant north of Fort Collins, and has a a stake in two units at Craig for another 154 megawatts of generating capacity.

The Rawhide power plant north of Fort Collins began production in 1984. Photo/Allen Best

Platte River describes Rawhide, Colorado’s second youngest coal plant, as being one of the highest-performing coal units in the United States. Debt is not scheduled to be retired on the plant until 2036. Current plans call for continued operations until 2047.

The pathway identified by Pace Global, an energy consulting subsidiary of Siemens, envisions this 434 megawatts of lost coal capacity being replaced by 600 megawatts of new solar capacity and 350 megawatts of wind.

The existing 388 megawatts of generating capacity at natural gas plants would be supplemented by an other 286 megawatts of natural gas combined-cycle generating capacity.

It is assumed that more generating capacity from renewables will be required because of the intermittency of both wind and solar.

Wind and solar prices have been tumbling rapidly in the last decade, but the study assumes costs of solar will get even better relative to wind in the next 12 yeas. An advantage to solar is that it can be produced within or near the four cities supplied by Platte River, whereas wind will require transmission. “By 2030, the all-in cost for solar is slightly lower than wind,” says the Pace Global report.

However, wind has a higher average capacity favor, 40 percent compared to solar’s 20 percent. In other words, the intermittency of wind is less than that of solar. That provides added value.

By 2030, wind would constitute the largest portion of the generating mix, followed by natural gas combined-cycle generation, followed by solar and hydro.

Pace Global found some value in lithium-ion battery storage, but with costs too high at this time to be a factor in meeting the carbon-neutrality goal. That may change. “As storage technology matures and there is wider adoption, battery storages can also be considered a part of the portfolio mix for ancillary services needs,” the study notes.

Simple-cycle turbines have advantages, including less cost to build, but are less efficient at converting the gas into electricity than the combined-cycle turbines.

Downtown Fort Collins.

Under the protocol defined by the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance—which is made up of 20 cities around the world, including Boulder, Colo.—this standard can be met if the carbon-based energy is offset by sale of renewables to other utilities, replacing their carbon energy.

This assumes that other utilities are not all similarly trying to achieve carbon neutrality. Colorado’s largest electrical supplier, Xcel Energy, which is responsible for over more than 60 percent of electrical delivery, plans to switch from coal to wind, solar, and natural gas by 2025, resulting in 55 percent of its electricity coming from non-carbon sources.

Costs could be reduced if Platte River and other utilities in Colorado and across the region join in a regional transmission authority, also called an RTO. Those discussions are underway.

During the question and answer session, most lauded Platte River’s initiative. So did the speaker representing Praxair, the supplier of industrial gases, which has an office in Loveland. The speaker, who said he was from California, went on to suggest caution, as the experience of California, a national leader in renewables, with 53 to 54 percent of its power supply now coming from non-carbon sources, has scraped against unreliable power.

He also noted he pays 20 cents a 20 cents a kilowatt-hour to Pacific Gas & Electric. In contrast, ratepayers in Loveland pay roughly 6 to 8 cents a kilowatt-hour.

Others during the lengthy question-and-answer session challenged the continued and then expanded burning of natural gas. For example, had the methane that leaks into the atmosphere during drilling and transmission of natural gas been calculated in the greenhouse gas emissions?

Twin drilling rigs near Longmont. Photo/Allen Best

The Environmental Defense Fund says that in the first two decades after its release into the atmosphere, methane is 84 times more powerful in trapping heat than carbon dioxide.

Gary Vicinus, the managing director for Pace Global, the consultant responded to that question, as he did to many. “This is a first step,” he said. “With continuing study, he added Pace Global will dive deeper into the questions.

Platte River may soon get a head start on its carbon-reduction ambitions. It has received proposals for 150 megawatts of new wind-generating capacity. Platte River’s directors support the proposals, reported Frisbie, the chief executive. He has the authority to enter into power-purchase agreements, but there is no formal date for a decision.

“If we move forward with 150 megawatts of new wind, we will have a generating portfolio that is nearly 48 percent carbon-free,” he said.

All this points to rapidly changing markets and economics, a point noted by Karin Hollohan, the chief administrative officer for Platte River as the meeting in Fort Collins wrapped up.

“Technology is moving very quickly. Prices are moving very fast,” she said.

In the past, electrical providers considered long-range planning to be 10 to 15 years. Now, it’s 5 to 10 years, and those plans may need revision after a couple years.

“We don’t have the answers,” Hollohan added, “but we will continue to study, continue to analyze, and continue to move forward.”

Also on Mountain Town News see: As coal plants close, more calls for 100 percent renewables, a story in the wake of announcement by Xcel Energy of its plans to close two aging coal plants at Pueblo, Colo.

For a look at what one electrical co-operative is doing, see: Is Kit Carson’s renewable goal also the answer to rural America’s woes?

 

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Why Neil Armstrong matters in carbon arguments

We put Neil Armstrong on the moon, so why can’t we meet carbon goals?

by Allen Best

In recent months I’ve talked with sustainability planners from Orlando, Fla., to Fort Collins, Colo., to Salt Lake City for two magazine stories about 100 percent renewable goals. None professed to know how their goals will be achieved in the time frames that were specified.

Still, there is an optimism, buoyed by the rapid changes now underway, that technology will overcome all challenges. A much simpler version of this optimism is reflected in the now-famous sequences shown by Stanford’s Tony Seba of Fifth Avenue in New York City. In the first photo, it’s all horse-drawn carriages and but one car. And the next photo is of the same Easter Day parade about a decade later, and there all cars save for one horse.

Make no mistake: these are audacious goals. Attaining them will require something of a miracle.

In Fort Collins, Colo., a utility planner suggested its best not to presuppose all the answers. Answers, he said, will arrive in increments. In downtown Denver, a resource planner for Xcel Energy thought existing technology would get us 75 percent of the way there but agrees with Jim Hansen, one of the world’s best-known climate scientists, that we must embrace nuclear power.

In Orlando, a sustainability planner pointed to nearby Cape Canaveral, from which the first man to walk on the moon was launched. President John Kennedy in 1961 announced that goal, to occur by 1969. Nobody knew how it would get done, but the goal was achieved. Neil Armstrong walked on the moon with months to spare.

Can Park City and Summit County achieve their goals? Arguably, these ambitions are loftier than a moon shot. They’re also more important. But you can’t get there if you don’t try. —Allen Best

See also:

Does Park City have the most ambitious carbon-reduction goals in U.S.?

How one-time Vietnam combat pilot leads Utah County to climate program

 

 

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How millennials pushed Park City to climate goals

How Park City millennials pushed officials to embrace carbon goals

by Allen Best

In the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, on the buses of Montgomery, the lunch counters of South Carolina and on the bridge at Selma, it was younger people who forced the issue. So, too, is the case in Park City’s adoption of what may be the nation’s most ambitious carbon-reduction goal.

Andy Beerman, the mayor-elect of Park City, says millennials who met with him wanted to step up the pace. He told them to educate themselves, get organized, then show up at city council meetings—repeatedly. They did. He began calling them the Carbon Army, a name they have embraced.

“They were mostly a bunch of 20- and 30-somethings, many of whom had grown up in Park City, and they would show up with their children and say, ‘You guys got to enjoy the snowpack, and we want to enjoy it. You guys need to start showing leadership in energy and renewable energy and climate.’”

After several months, the council—Beerman was a member then—did just that. The resolutions, approved unanimously, call for carbon neutrality in municipal operations by 2022 and community wide carbon neutrality by 2032. This may be the most ambitious carbon-reduction goal in the country.

See also: One-time Vietnam combat pilot leads Summit County to adopt climate goals.

Andy Beerman

This is uncharted territory in Park City and elsewhere. The path to achieve these goals is not at all clear.

Before the Carbon Army arrived at city council meetings to plead and cajole, climate change had been an issue of strong interest but wavering commitment in Park City.

In 2007, just a year after Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” was released, 1,500 people showed up to hear a scientist from Colorado talk about the effects of the warming climate on Park City. It was followed by events sponsored by Save Our Snow, an activist group.

Beerman and his wife, Thea Leonard, who then operated a hotel, invested in their business to make it net-zero.

The city committed to “green up” new public buildings, but when projects inevitably went over budget, solar panels and other energy efficiencies got “value engineered” out of plans for a new library, recreation center, ice rink, and water-treatment plant.

By around 2014, a vigorous economy had returned, restoring money for those omitted solar panels. That same year, the Georgetown University Energy Prize was announced, offering $5 million for demonstrable, replicable efforts in energy efficiency.

Now, that prize money seems to have disappeared and, in any event, Park City was not among the finalists (nor was any other ski town). Still, Beerman thinks that the Georgetown prize was valuable in galvanizing community effort. In that effort, Park City got serious about wringing out inefficiencies from its energy-intensive water system, a major consumer of electricity. An energy fee was added to water bills, recognizing explicitly the cost of moving water around as well as treating it. Old, inefficient pumps were replaced.

Soon after, the younger activists started showing up. Prominent among them was a young couple, Bryn and Jackie Carey, who own a business in Park City called Ski Butlers. They had gone through the training of Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project. They also obtained support from the Alpine Collective, a resort town activist group.

“It was one of those topics that was ripe, and having the Carbon Army show up and push us elevated it in our eyes,” says Beerman. He says he felt passionate about this himself, but it was not a case he could make by himself. “This group carried it across the finish line with our council.”

See also: Why Neil Armstrong matters in climate arguments 

Electricity might be the easiest hurdle, as Rocky Mountain Power has indicated willingness to work with Park City, Moab, and other jurisdictions that want to attain 100 percent renewable goals. A pathway may be evident in transportation, particularly since General Motors announced plans to pursue an all-electric lineup of cars during the next decade.

The built environment remains a major source of energy consumption and a more daunting challenge. Park City has many heated driveways and large houses. Beerman says that Park City is investigating incentives for buildings to pare back need for carbon energy. Most buildings are heated by natural gas. But the city is approaching this “very carefully,” because Utah law does not allow cities generally to be more restrictive than state codes. “This limits our ability to require green building, forcing us to get creative with partnerships, incentives and education,” says Beerman.

If Park City now veers strongly Democratic in its voting patterns, Park City officials are careful in how they phrase their ambitions. They refer to renewable energy goals, not climate goals.

“I don’t think that, by and large, the over-40 crowd is concerned about climate change,” says Beerman, 49, who is originally from Columbus, Ohio. “Maybe the millennials understand the scope of it better. Certainly, they will have to deal with the consequences.”

What is it about Park City that it adopted this goal and not, for example, Steamboat Springs? The two are both located along the same Highway 40, are of somewhat comparable size and demographics.

Beerman suspects that Steamboat Springs—and other ski towns—will be close on Park City’s heels. “Frustration with the dysfunction of the federal government is inspiring cities and towns to take action,” he says. “It’s the ground-up movement that will fuel meaningful action on climate change.”

Many local elected officials, he adds, are feeling: “This is on us; no one’s going to come save us.’”

 

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Will high-pressure ridge leave Rockies high and dry?

Will high-pressure ridge in Pacific cause Rockies to stay dry ’til January?

Chilling new evidence of link to melting Arctic sea

by Allen Best

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. – Might it be a dry Christmas in Colorado, Utah and perhaps other locations, the result of yet again a high-pressure ridge that has formed off the West Coast?

That’s one possibility suggested by Eric Kuhn after examining two stories out of California posted on Tuesday. Kuhn is in the final months as general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, but he continues to monitor the news that affect water users on the upper Colorado River.

Eric Kuhn

The two, overlapping postings concern formation of a high-pressure ridge off the West Coast that causes moisture-laden storms to go northward. Whistler has been getting hammered with snow. Mammoth? No, not all that much.

One posting forecasts a “remarkably persistent weather pattern will begin to develop across North America and adjacent oceanic regions.” The writer, Daniel Swain, writing on Weathewest.com, pointed out that “patterns like this have a tendency to become self-reinforcing, lasting for much longer than more typical transient weather patterns and leading to prolonged stretches of unusual weather.”

The result: “an extended, multi-week warm and dry spell” in California while “much of the East Coast shivers through repeated blasts of cold, Arctic air.” Swain expects this pattern to last “at least two weeks” but suggests possibly longer.

The posting, based largely on a peer-reviewed paper published earlier this year in the Journal of Geophysical Research, runs 2,400 words. It is well worth reading. Swain, the writer, coined the phrase “ridiculously resilient ridge” in 2014, during the drought in California.

Kuhn points out that when this stubborn high-pressure ridge forms off the West Coast, it has always produced problems for California and sometimes for the Rocky Mountains, too. He would have you imagine a clock, the storms moving across the top of the clock and down to the right, just as some of these storms have slid down into the Great Plains and others down the spine of the Rocky Mountains.

Will the weather be like clock-work this year? Forecasts of more than a week or two, if improving, remain subject to a great deal of variability, he points out.

That same posting by Swain in Weatherwest.com discusses the link between disappearing Arctic sea ice and the formation of the high-pressure ridge off the West Coast.

“The Arctic is warming more than twice as fast as the rest of the world, and sea ice has been disappearing at a greater rate than had projected by climate models—a rapid rate of change…” Swain writes. He goes on to say that there is no clear link between the vanishing sea ice and the persistent high-pressure ridge but that does not discount the possibility.

However, on the same day, a study conducted by scientists from the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California claims to have found evidence of this link.

The Los Angeles Times summarized the study in this way: “Using complex new modeling, the scientists have found that rapidly melting Arctic sea ice now threatens to diminish precipitation over California by as much as 15% within 20 to 30 years.”

The story goes on to say that the study, published in the journal Nature Communications “provides compelling evidence of the link between the disappearance of sea ice in the Arctic and the buildup of high ridges of atmosphere pressure over the Pacific Ocean. Those ridges push winter storms away from the state, causing drought.”

Kuhn, from his purview in Colorado, extends the story inland. “To me, it’s a potentially troublesome for both California and Colorado and the states between.”

The result of that high-pressure ridge was devastating to California in 2012 and 2013 and, to a lesser extent, in 2014 and 2015. Colorado fared better, as storms tracked down the spine of the Rockies. But that weather system left Utah more exposed. “We had one winter where Colorado was in decent shape, but Utah was in bad shape.”

Lake Mead from Hoover Dam in late 2016. Photo/Allen Best

This new research will undoubtedly be discussed next week in the hallways of Caesar’s Palace, site of the annual Colorado River Water Users Association. The story during the 21st century in the Colorado River Basin has been of the effects of rising temperatures but also the effects of that high-pressure ridge along the West Coast and its impact on states from Wyoming to Arizona.

Mountain towns in Colorado and other interior states are less directly affected than those of the Sierra Nevada. Even in drought years, headwater valleys usually get water. But Powell, Mead and other reservoirs of the Colorado River Basin have been slowly ebbing.

About 70 percent of all the water in the Colorado River at Lee’s Ferry, at the head of the Grand Canyon, below Lake Powell, comes from Colorado, mostly as a result of snow. Very little water is added to the river below Lee’s Ferry. In this way, ski towns are directly connected to the vegetable fields of California’s Imperial Valley and Yuma, Ariz., source of the winter veggies their restaurants will be serving Christmas week.

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Utah’s Summit County aims for deep carbon reductions

One-time Vietnam combat pilot leads Utah county to adopt climate goals

by Allen Best

PARK CITY, Utah – Donald Trump got elected president the same day that Glenn Wright was elected councilor in Utah’s Summit County. On their respective campaign trails, though, the two men articulated very different energy visions.

Trump vowed to bring back coal, a hollow promise even then. Natural gas, cheap and plentiful, has undermined coal, but so have tumbling prices of renewables. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper noted recently that wind prices have dropped about 66 percent in the last eight years while solar prices plummeted 85 percent. “That is what is allowing us to look at this new future,” he said.

Glenn Wright

Wright, in his campaign stumping, talked about the aspiration of 100 percent renewables for all county operations by 2032. The message connected, at least just enough. Summit County leans heavily Democrat, and Wright, a Democrat, got 53 percent of the votes in his race. Trump got 35 percent in the county.

In turn, Wright was able to persuade his fellow elected councilors in Summit County to adopt a resolution on Oct. 6 that calls for rapid decarbonization in Summit County, first in government operations and then in the broader community.

Summit County has much company in this. Nearly 50 towns, cities, and counties from Portland, Ore., to Orlando, Fla., have embraced goals of 100 percent renewables even as the federal government under Trump has been tilting policies to favor fossil fuels. At last count, 150 mayors had also adopted the Sierra Club-orchestrated pledge of 100 percent renewables.

Among mountain resort towns, South Lake Tahoe had formally embraced a goal of 100 percent renewables last spring. So has Kit Carson Electric, which serves Taos and other ski areas in northern New Mexico. Aspen Electric achieved that feat several years ago, although it should be noted —as conservative bloggers do with prickly, gotcha pride—that the utility only serves a half to two thirds of the town and none of the ski area.

No longer delusional goals

A decade ago, these 100 percent aspirations, even if confined to electrical production, were dismissed as frothy, even delusional. Renewables were too expensive and innately intermittent: “The wind doesn’t always blow, the sun doesn’t always shine,” was the old mantra.

You still hear those tired responses, but not from utilities. They have figured out how to integrate renewables at higher and higher proportions. And cost? Renewables have become much lower in price than coal. New markets are being created to move electrons around the grid, creating price efficiencies. Much more is likely to happen in demand-side management.

“It’s here, it’s happening faster and faster. We don’t know where it will go,” said David Eves, chief executive of the Public Service Co. of Colorado at the recent Center for the New Energy Economy conference in Fort Collins, Colo. “This is very different than even five years ago.”

But 100 percent renewable aspirations adopted by local governments remain stretch goals. Almost no one, if anybody, knows exactly how they will be achieved. Many are couched more safely in terms of carbon neutrality. That means continued use of fossil fuels will be offset by production of renewable or at least non-carbon energy.

Now, some jurisdictions are flexing their jaws for an even bigger bite: economy-wide carbon neutrality, including transportation and heating.

Park City, the largest city in Summit County, may be singular in the scale of its ambition. Elected officials there propose to transition city government operations to 100 percent renewable electricity by 2022. But a decade later, the community is to be altogether carbon-neutral, not just in electricity but in all energy use.

Luke Cartin, Park City’s environmental sustainability manager, claims this is the most ambitious goal in the country. If that claim cannot be verified, as no agency tracks claims, it seems quite possible.

Wright says that he and fellow elected officials in Summit County had at least two long conversations about whether the county’s goals could be achieved. They are less ambitious than those of Park City but still transformative: an 80 percent reduction in county/community greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

“We don’t want to set goals we can’t meet,” said one of his fellow members of the county council.

In the end, the doubts were substantially diminished. “I think we came to the conclusion that these are doable goals,” says Wright.

See also: Why Neil Armstrong matters in carbon arguments

Utah’s Summit County includes a portion of . the Uintah Mountains. Photo/Summit County

Calculating risks

A native of New York state, Wright has a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and served in the U.S. Air Force for six years. During that time he was a combat pilot in Vietnam, flying 250 missions as an airborne forward air controller. His job in the light aircraft—now done by drones—was to identify the targets and direct fighters to those targets with their bombs.

Later, he had a 30-year career in industrial safety for the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies. Insurance companies calculate the risks of activities, and even by the year 2000 Wright had begun to study the risks of the changing climate. He sees the risk of accumulating greenhouse gas emissions as too great for what is Summit County’s economically most important natural resource:.

That argument can be made easily in Park City. But Summit County extends to Wyoming, a broad rural expanse that veers conservative. It’s not been a factor. “I haven’t seen a lot of opposition to this,” he says. Aging ranchers, he surmises, have seen the climate change and understand the causes.

Coal-fired power plants were in the past synonymous with carbon emissions, the steam billowing from their smoke stacks a striking visual. But those coal plants have been closing in droves. Last year, transportation became the No. 1 source of CO2 emissions in the United States.

That’s also true in Summit County. The resolution adopted by county councilors identifies transportation as responsible for 47 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, electricity for 30 percent, and the balance, 23 percent, in buildings, solid waste, and land use.

The Jim Bridger Power plant is located 165 miles east of Park City along Interstate 80. Photo/Allen Best

Rocky Mountain Power is a crucial partner for both Summit County and Park City. An investor-owned utility, it delivers electricity that is currently heavy in carbon: 55 percent coal, 25 percent natural gas, with another 10 percent from hydro and the final 10 percent other non-carbon sources. But the utility is already planning to retire a significant amount of its coal generation within the next 20 years.

Cindy Crane, chief executive of Rocky Mountain Power, said in a keynote address at the Western Power Summit that her company is fully committed to working with Park City, Summit County, and other jurisdictions in its service territory that want to transition to renewables.

She stressed two things: energy efficiency and the transition to electrified transportation.

“The best energy is the energy we don’t use,” said Crane, who has been with Rocky Mountain Power for 26 years.

How does a utility make money selling less of its product? Well, in the case of Rocky Mountain Power, and many other utilities, the gap might well be filled by demand for electricity for transportation.

“It’s a different world out there than it was only a few years ago,” said Crane at the conference, held ironically at a hotel a short distance from the corporate headquarters in Broomfield, Colo., of Vail Resorts, now a major player in Utah’s Summit County.

“It’s a changing marketplace by every dimension. It’s being driven first and foremost by our customers. We are also providing new choices for our customers.”

Wright himself embodies some of these new shifts. He drives a plug-in electric car. Roof-top solar allows him to produce most of the power he consumes.

Pathways in Summit County to attainment

The pathway that Wright envisions is to seize opportunities for local generation of both solar and wind as well as in other parts of Utah. “Reducing cost trends in both generation and storage, I believe, will provide opportunities for additional roof-top solar as well as local development of micro-grids with storage.”

Electrified transportation is another pathway. The county has 6 electric buses and will get 7 more next year. Wright hopes that the county government can fully transition to electric vehicles in 5 to 10 years. Then, there’s a future where most new cars will be electric.

Park City’s municipal building is an old school house, now retrofitted with solar panels on the roof. Photo/Allen Best

Buildings pose a more difficult challenge. They’re commonly heated by burning natural gas. Retrofitting them to be heated by electricity would be a major undertaking. For that matter, you may replace a car every 10 to 20 years. Buildings more commonly remain for a century or more. Many of those in Summit County are 20 to 40 years old. The city hall in Park City, an old school, is much, much older.

Utah has been sluggish about requiring energy efficiency in buildings. It has only adopted the 2009 international building code, a brisk improvement over older codes but still two code-updates behind the most recent code update of 2015. Local jurisdictions in Utah are not permitted to adopt their own codes. Homebuilders, says Wright, “are interested unfortunately in the cheapest cost possible.”

Summit County has more leverage in larger developments of 10 units or more. There, county officials can negotiate higher building efficiency standards and use of non-carbon heating. That higher threshold of energy will be part of the discussion as county officials review a new project for two million square feet proposed at the base of the Vail Resorts ski area formerly called The Canyons.

Park City’s Cartin did not identify how his jurisdiction will move around the state limitations but does point to a city council resolution that all city-built facilities must be net-zero on site. Not even Aspen city officials, in approving plans for a new city hall in 2016, were willing to go that far.

Elected officials in Park City identified energy/carbon, along affordable housing and transit, as their most critical priorities.

“The pathways were not identified. The goals were set to give a sense of urgency,” said Cartin in an e-mail response to questions. “It is my role to identify the pathways to success.” He did not identify those pathways, nor did he respond to several requests for clarification.

Political will comes first

Mayor-elect Andy Beerman, a key figure on the council that adopted Park City’s goals, concedes the pathway to carbon neutrality remains unclear. He and other councilors, in adopting the goals, can generally see how about 80 percent of these goals can be achieved. The rest, he concedes, rely upon an assumption of technological advances and sheer determination. He concedes that Park City has left very little room for falling short.

But political will must precede concrete knowledge of how to achieve the goals, he says.

“We decided if we didn’t take leadership, there wasn’t a whole lot of hope,” he says. “We wanted to show it could be done. There was a lot of resistance from staff, because they thought the goal would be very difficult to reach or too expensive for the community to stomach. But as a council, we felt that climate change was an imminent threat.”

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Autonomous vehicles and the last-mile problem

Autonomous vehicle proclaimed an answer to first-mile, last-mile barrier

Story/photos by Allen Best

It’s called the first-mile, last-mile problem of mass transit, and it has vexed transportation planners forever during the automotive era. Until you make it easy to get to and from light rail and other public transit, they will remain underused.

One possible answer will be tested soon at Peña Station Next, the laboratory for autonomous and other cutting-edge technology. Peña Station is the last stop before Denver International Airport on the A-Line from downtown Denver.

There, later this year, an autonomous (self-driving) vehicle is to provide a link between the light rail line at 57th and Pena and a bus stop located four blocks away at 61st and Tower Road.

Peña Station Next is the project being driven by Panasonic Enterprise Solutions Co. in conjunction with a variety of partners. With Xcel Energy it will test creation of a microgrid, capable of generating its own electricity. It is partnering with the Colorado Department of Transportation and its future-looking RoadX program and the Regional Transportation District.

For this self-driving vehicle, Panasonic has linked with Easy Mile, a French manufacturer of self-driving vehicles that recently set up shop in Denver. The vehicle shown Monday evening offers six seats and room for six people to stand.

On a round-trip ride Panasonic’s headquarters and the Pena Station light rail, a distance of maybe two blocks, an Easy Mile engineer said the car could top out at 25 mph, but more generally was geared to go only 15 mph. During the two-block ride, it moved at only about 6 mph. It is battery operated and normally can operate for a day without a recharge.

Public officials at the ceremony proclaimed it a solution to the first-mile, last-mile problem of mass transit.

Colorado Mayor John Hickenlooper

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper predicted that autonomous vehicles will “cure so many solutions to the things that have been vexing.” Broad adoption of the self-driving vehicles can improve air quality, reduce congestion and expand use of existing infrastructure, he said. He also pointed out that 95 percent of highway fatalities are the result of human errors.

In Colorado, Rutt Bridges has been boring down into the transformational possibilities of the new technologies in transportation. Hickenlooper mentioned that Bridges spokes last week at the Western Governors Association meeting in Arizona. There were  17 governors there, said Hickenlooper, and Bridges had “every one of them of them in the palm of his hands.”

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock was equally expansive in his description of the importance of the technology.

“This is the key, the first and the last mile is the powerful piece we’re missing in so many situations around Denver,” he said at the gathering held at Panasonic’s headquarters at Pena Station Next. “This is a special day in the life of this city, and a special day in the life of our state,” he said.

That was also the view of Florine Raitano, director of partnership development and innovation with the Denver Regional Council of Governments.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock

“What we need is a well-designed feeder system to deliver passengers,” she said after the remarks. “Easy Mile is just one of many potential technical solutions. There are more to come.”

Raitano, a former mayor of Dillon, Colo., said she was excited by the technological solutions. Some mobility choices in 15 to 20 years will probably be the same as now, but many will be things we haven’t imagined yet.

Dave Genova, the general manager of RTD, said “some hurdles with state, federal and city regulations” remain to be cleared before the prototype at Pena Station Next can move forward. He did not specify.

 

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Looking for Orion’s Belt on a snowy Idaho evening

To see Orion’s Belt in the dark sky from the snowy streets of Ketchum

by Allen Best

KETCHUM, Idaho – Ketchum recently  was awarded a still-rare designation by the International Dark-Sky Association. The question is whether that designation as a dark sky community can be monetized through what is called astro-tourism.

The premise of astro-tourism is that people really do want to see Aquarius, Orion, and other constellations that were readily visible to Biblical shepherds.

Before Ketchum, the International Dark-Sky Association has made 15 other such community designations in the world, 11 of them in North America. They include Sedona and Flagstaff in Arizona and Westcliffe and Silver Cliff in Colorado.

The organization has also designated several dozen dark sky parks around the world, including Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho, Canyonlands National Park in Utah, and Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico.

To be eligible for the designation, communities must adopt regulations that strongly discourage light pollution. Ketchum did that in 1999 with an ordinance that requires shielding of outdoor lighting fixtures and minimizes light output. The city council in the last year adopted updated regulations that may be among the most up-to-date in the nation.

If there were still some resistance to lighting regulations 15 years ago, they have disappeared. “I have yet to hear somebody say, ‘I hate the dark sky ordinance,’” says Micah Austin, the city’s planning director. Applicants for building permits accept the restrictions, and Austin thinks that’s because the community embraces the intent.

“I think people recognize the ability to walk out onto a snowy street in the middle of winter and seek Orion’s Belt is an experience they want to have. I think they recognize that their lives are made better.”

Unlike in so many matters, where planning initiatives are met with silence or opposition, there was strong and supportive public engagement to the updated regulations (See story below).

For the city to maintain its status, it must continue to protect the night sky through public outreach, including dark sky events.

Nearly 80 percent of people in North America are unable to see the Milky Way Galaxy from where they live, the result of light pollution, most of it created in the latter half of the 20th century, according to the “New World Atlas of Artificial Sky Brightness,” by Fabio Falchi and others.

In Ketchum, the push toward slowing the encroachment of artificial lights was driven by Dr. Stephen Pauley. Now 77, he was an eye, nose, and throat specialist who moved to Ketchum and Sun Valley in 1991. Friends call him Dr. Dark.

Speaking with a New York Times reporter in 2003, he described dark sky preservation as a matter primarily of education. “It does not mean living in darkness,” said Pauley. “It means shining light where it belongs, on the ground or pavement, not in someone’s eyes, window or up into a space where it is wasted.”

This year, talking with the Idaho Mountain Express, he compared the loss of the night sky to that of coral reefs in the ocean or ice in the Arctic.

He said he hopes Ketchum becomes a model for other cities in the Mountain West. “There has to be an understanding of the dark.”

An even more important designation may be forthcoming, possibly before the end of 2017. The town is at the core of a proposed International Dark-Sky Reserve for central Idaho. It would be a first in the United States.

In Colorado, Westcliffe and Silver Cliff also hope to achieve that distinction along with the broader Wet Mountain Valley, but the effort to adopt regulations may have been slowed by the recall of two of the three Custer County commissioners. The proposed restrictions are part of the disagreement.

John Barentine, program manager for the International Dark-Sky Association, says that Ketchum’s application was more explicitly about driving tourism than other community applications.

“Like the others, it was partly about quality of life and preserving community character, but I think pretty clearly they hope to capitalize on people who will be coming to see the night sky from the to-be-established Reserve,” he tells Mountain Town News.

“‘Astrotourism’ is a bona fide motivator, particularly in the American West, driving establishment of not only protected areas like International Dark Sky Parks, but also so-called ‘Amenity West’ communities like Ketchum,” says Barentine.

Foot-candles, Kelvin scales and creating community buy-in for dark sky measures

Ketchum has updated its dark sky regulations in two key ways.

First, the new law establishes a cap on the color temperature for outdoor lights. Incandescent bulbs have a maximum of 2700 Kelvin. But LED lights allow a much broader range of Kelvin temperatures, even up to 8,000 and 9,000 Kelvin. The latter is blue and piercing, with the feel of a meat freezer.

The harm? Plenty, says the American Medical Association, which has issued a report that finds lights with higher Kelvin temperatures are harmful to humans and to wildlife, disrupting circadian rhythms.

Ketchum planners proposed a cap of 3,000 Kelvin lights, but community members wanted the gold standard: 2,700 Kelvin.

Micah Austin, the planning director, say it may be the most stringent standard in the nation.

A second provision establishes a light-trespass matrix of light infiltrating across property lines.  Light from somebody’s porchlight inevitably will shine into an adjacent property, what is called light trespass. But this establishes the limit.

How can you tell what’s too much? The town government has a meter to use in response to complaints, but an app that can be downloaded to smart phones does a good job of measuring the foot-candle brightness that would violate the standard.

Regulation will be complaint driven, but Austin says there’s strong community buy-in to these standards.

Part of that buy-in has been driven by the active participation of the Idaho Conservation League, which has an active presence in Ketchum. — Allen Best

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Amory Lovins’s long, soft, and creatively optimistic path

Amory Lovins has harvested bananas 61 times from his solar-passive house near Aspen since the early 1980s. Photo used with permission, ©Judy Hill Lovins

Amory Lovins’s long, soft, and creatively optimistic path

by Allen Best

Lovins recently traveled from his home near Aspen to talk about growing bananas at 7,100 feet in the Colorado Rockies. The house was built in the early 1980s, he told an audience at an energy conference held at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, and since then he’s had 66 harvests.

But his point wasn’t really about the bananas. It was about the energy used to grow the bananas.

Temperatures in the Aspen area then could reach 46 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, he said. “But my house has no combustion (furnace),” he went on to say. “That is so 20th century.”

Lovins, considered by many to be among the most important thinkers about energy of the last half-century, has told about his bananas many times and in many places. It’s his look-see visual proof for the enduring theme of his career. For decades he has been saying that we need to embrace energy efficiency through both more thoughtful design and readily available technology.

His thoughts cohered In 1976 a seminal essay published in Foreign Affairs called “Energy Strategy: The Road Not Taken?” He was a young scholar at Oxford then. An Arab oil embargo in 1973 had left people in block-long lines waiting for their chances to refuel cars at gas pumps. The United States was binging on construction of new coal-fired power plants and also enraptured with nuclear energy even as the arms race of the Cold War continued.

In his essay, Lovins defined the soft energy path as a future where energy efficiency and renewable energy sources steadily replace a centralized energy system based on fossil and nuclear fuels.

Lovins, a friend of David Brower, the famous long-time leader of the Sierra Club, argued not environmental ethics but rather the business case. You should do it because you will save money, he said.

He made that same case in Fort Collins, at a conference sponsored by the Center for the New Energy Economy. His house near Old Snowmass, he explained, is designed with 99 percent passive solar and 1 percent active solar. Naturally, it’s super insulated, but even the stale air is processed to recover heat. The payback on this 1982 technology was about 10 months. The house, he added, has now inspired 40,000 such passive-solar houses.

On the dais at the energy conference, Lovins barely paused, the numbers and facts and thoughts rolling out precisely, pleasantly, and always with supreme authority, as if he was the smartest guy in the room. That confidence annoys lots of people, but they concede: He probably is the smartest guy in most rooms where he speaks.

Elizabeth Kolbert, now a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, was among those who have been to Lovins’s house to see his bananas and hear his gospel. “He is routinely described, even by people who don’t particularly like or admire him, as a ‘genius,’” Kolbert wrote in a 2007 report for the New Yorker. The story was headlined “Mr. Green: Environmentalism’s optimistic guru Amory Lovins.”

Responding to that profile, David Roberts, then with Grist, conceded Lovins’s genius. “Reading Lovins for the first time can be a life-changing experience, one of those moments when your entire perception of the world shifts and you see everything in a new light,” Roberts wrote. “But there’s the nagging thought. Lovins can always talk and explain and persuade better than we can—he’s a friggin’ genius—but the intuitive question keeps returning.”

That intuitive question in 2007 was why wasn’t this happening, this new world of energy that Lovins had then been describing for three decades. The Economist, which has tracked Lovins’s work frequently through the years, in 2008 said this:

“Though he is now 60, Mr Lovins shows no signs of slowing down. The Sage of Snowmass is still busy coming up with big new ideas, though if history is any guide, they will take a while to catch on. Watch this space—for ten to 20 years.”

Almost a decade later, it does appear finally that Lovins’s predictions are coming true. Whether it is happening quickly enough given the ever-more troubling news about global greenhouse gas emissions is the big question.

But Lovins, as the New Yorker headline in 2007 suggested, has always been one to look into the future with a sly, knowing smile, not a frown. At the recent conference, Colorado’s former governor, Bill Ritter, asked about optimism vs. pessimism.

In his answer, Lovins cited the counsel of his late friend, the Sierra Club’s Brower, who had described optimism and pessimism as being on “opposite sides of the same coin, the same irresponsible surrender to fatalism, in which you treat the future as fate and not choice, and not taking responsibility for creating the future you want.”

“We call it applied hope,” Lovins went on to say, referring to his think-tank, the Rocky Mountain Institute. “It’s not theoretical hope. It’s not anywhere near blind optimism. It’s making choices each day to create a world worth being hopeful about,” he said.

“You can’t depress people into action,” he added.

Tankers, presumably carrying oil, roll through downtown Denver. Photo/Allen Best

Earlier in the program, Lovins had described the industrial titans of the early 20th century: Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and John Rockefeller. The three men changed the world in ways that are now very much familiar.

Until very recently, with the arrival of LED lighting, most of our light came from incandescent bulbs, little changed from Edison’s invention. We’re mostly still driving internal-combustion cars fueled by the oil that made Rockefeller a name synonymous with wealth.

But we’re on the cusp of great change “because we have 21st century technology and speed colliding head-on with 20th century and even 19th century institutions, rules, and cultures.”

“The first two of these great industries are coming together to eat the third one.”

Lovins sees a dramatic reduction in demand for oil and tough times ahead for utilities that try to stick to existing business models. We’re on the cusp of massive adoption of electric cars. (See MTN story about adoption rates in Colorado). The batteries of those EVs will then be connected to the electrical grid, storing renewable energy. More renewable energy can be generated locally, instead of the giant central station power plants favored by utilities for the last 60 years.

Wind now undercuts all other new energy sources; power-purchase agreements with utilities last year averaged 2.5 cents a kilowatt-hour and some recently have come in at 1.2 cents a kilowatt-hour. That’s lower than coal, lower than gas, lower than just about anything. The resource has been enlarged by two-thirds, he added “not because the wind blew harder, but because we got better at capturing it.”

Electric cars, cheap renewables, and what do you get? “This is a perfect storm brewing for the oil and car industries,” he said.

Former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter interviews Amory Lovins at the Center of the New Energy Economy conference on Oct. 30. Photo/Maury Dobbie

Lovins frequently invoked his 2012 book, “Reinventing Fire,” and its “rigorous” research that shows how to triple U.S. efficiency and quintuple renewables by 2050, eliminating the need for coal, oil, and nuclear energy and a third less natural gas. This would “save $5 trillion in net-present value, grow the economy 2.6 fold, strengthen natural security and cut carbon emission 282 to 286 percent.”

This can all be accomplished by adoption of smart policies at the state and local levels and driven by businesses seeking to maximize profits. For inflexible utilities and oil and gas companies, though, these changes pose an existential risk, he said.

“You’re really a markets guy,” said Ritter, the former governor, before asking whether Lovins thought markets could achieve what its needed in a timely manner.

“Where allowed to work, yes, but policy and other factors can get in the way,” Lovins answered. But markets are good at short-term allocation of scarce resources. They were never meant to substitute for politics, ethics or faith.

Referring to “Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution,” a book Lovins wrote with his ex-wife, Hunter Lovins, and Paul Hawken, he said that “markets make a great servant, a bad master, and a worse religion.”

Don’t renewables get subsidies? Yes, but they are being phased out, Lovins answered—and besides, other forms of energy also have received subsidies and continue to get them.

The Aspen Skiing Co.’s Auden Schendler, who once worked at Lovins’s Rocky Mountain Institute, believes that the big story is that “the trends have caught up to his predictions. Solar, wind, and batteries have finally started to decline in cost in ways that can enable a takeover of traditional technologies; and nukes, coal, and combustion engines are going extinct for all the reasons Amory has long argued,” he said in an e-mail.

“The challenge has always been how quickly this will all play out, and whether markets, such as they are, will be enough to get us to the finish line before the planet is cooked. For all the good news, the unfortunate fact is we’re not making it, as global emission data released today show.”

That was on Nov. 13, the start of the world climate conference in Bonn. In the Global Carbon Project, a group of scientists reported a 2 percent increase in burning of fossil fuels in 2017 after nearly no growth in 2014, 2015, or 2016, mostly because of increased burning of coal by China. “It was a bit staggering,” said one of the scientists, Ralph Keeling, of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “We race headlong into the unknown.”

Carbon dioxide emissions measured by Keeling’s father, Charles David Keeling, on Mauna Loa in Hawaii in April 1958 were 317 parts per million. By the time Lovins’s Foreign Affairs essay was published in 1976 they were at 334 ppm. Now, they’re at 409.

The message from Colorado State, though, was don’t get depressed, but do get active—and make a buck along the way.

This was in the Nov. 15 issue of Mountain Town News, a weekly e-magazine sent to subscribers. For subscription details, see red boxes at upper-right.

For access to the videotape of this and other sessions at the conference, see: http://energytransition.colostate.edu/symposium-2017/videotaped-sessions-2017/

The conference was sponsored by Energy Institute and the School of Global Environmental Sustainability, both at Colorado State University, and the Center for the New Energy Economy.

 

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Electric car sales and the expanding lily pond

Will electric car sales become like the pond with proliferating lily pads?

Many mountain resort towns, including Aspen, have been installed charging stations.

EVs still small share of market share, but that could change

by Allen Best

Remember the riddle about the lily pond that begins with one lily, the number doubling each day? The pond seems empty even when it has become an eighth filled. But you can do the math for the three days beyond.

That riddle comes to mind when Will Toor talks about the adoption rate for electric vehicles in Colorado. Today they constitute just 10,000 or so among the 5 million-plus cars, trucks, and motorcycles. But the growth rate for EVs has averaged 41 percent since 2012, and this year sales are up 73 percent over the same months of last year.

Toor, the transportation program director for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, sees this progression as evidence for a coming tipping point in transportation electrification. Like the lilies, this automotive pond will soon look very different.

“We are clearly headed toward lower-carbon electricity, and we now seem to be getting to the tipping point in electrification of transportation,” says Toor, who has a doctorate in physics. Sales will double within three years at this rate of growth. With certain policy supports, Colorado could have a million EVs by 2030, he adds.

Colorado now has the 6th largest market share of EVs in the country, behind California and other West Coast states, Hawaii, and Vermont. Fort Collins, Boulder, and the Roaring Fork Valley stand out as early adopters, says Toor.

To be sure, there are some who remain skeptical, seeing more measured and incremental growth unlike the quick adoption of smart phones and other new wrinkles in technology. EVs, they say, do not obviously represent a transformative improvement for consumers as compared to gas- and diesel-fueled vehicles.

State governments, however, want to smooth the way for EVs, creating charging infrastructure to create comfort for potential buyers. Colorado agencies propose to spend $10.3 million of the state’s $68 million share of the Volkswagen settlement for charging stations or fueling stations for zero-emission passenger cars and trucks. The settlement is a result of Volkswagen’s admission that it tampered with its diesel cars to allow more emissions than permitted by the Clean Air Act.

In anticipation of that settlement, Colorado a year ago was moving to join Utah and Nevada in creating charging infrastructure on interstate highways—and, in some places, beyond. Soon, it will be possible to drive from Kansas to the Pacific Ocean with some sort of fast-charging infrastructure guaranteed about every 50 miles. But there are still gaps, such as between Denver and Summit County.

Last year, Colorado also released a tiered program for implementation of electric charging stations and other alternative fuels on secondary highways, such as along U.S. 285 between Denver and Buena Vista and along U.S. 36 between Denver and Estes Park. Other corridors, including U.S. 40 and U.S. 50, are also being targeted for alternative fueling stations.

More policy supports may be on the way as advisors to Gov. John Hickenlooper put together strategies to support the governor’s executive order, issued July 11, “supporting Colorado’s clean energy transition.”

The order directs state agencies to develop a statewide electric vehicle plan by Jan. 1 to build out key charging corridors that “will facilitate economic development and boost tourism across the state while reducing harmful air pollution.”

Denver, Salt Lake City, and other cities have also identified electrification of transportation as crucial to achieving their greenhouse gas reduction goals. Denver is aiming for an 80 percent reduction of greenhouse gases by 2050.

The Salt Lake Valley each winter suffers through temperature inversions that trap pollutants from cars, trucks and buildings.

In Salt Lake City, vehicle electrification is seen as a crucial strategy for addressing the pollution that badly fouls the air during winter. Temperature inversions trap local pollution in the valley, leaving many of the one million residents of the metropolitan area wheezing, hacking, and scratching their eyes.

“It’s absolutely miserable,” says Nick Norris, communities and neighborhoods planning director. The pollution is also unhealthy, exacerbating asthma and even causing spikes in heart attacks. Medical authorities have attributed 1,000 to 2,000 premature deaths to the air pollution.

Transportation is the single largest source of the pollution, followed by exhausts from heating buildings, according to analysis by the state government. Electric power plants are located well away from Salt Lake.

This clear and obvious problem of pollution is causing more rapid acceptance of electric vehicles in the Salt Lake Valley, says Norris. It also fits with the goals of the city to reduce carbon emissions from transportation and home heating 80 percent by 2040.

Rocky Mountain Power, the electrical utility for Salt Lake City as well as Park City and Moab, supports this transition with installation of charging stations. And why shouldn’t it? Electric cars represent new demand even as improved energy efficiency has leveled off and even caused declines from other sectors. “It’s a different world out there than it was only a few years ago,” said Cindy Crane, chief executive of Rocky Mountain Power at the Western Power Summit last week.

Utah now leads the nation in percentage growth in EV sales, followed by Nevada, North Carolina, and Colorado. About 1.2 percent of all cars in Colorado are now electric, compared to more than 4 percent of all cars in California.

Tesla several years ago installed fast-charging stations in Lusk, Wyo., located in eastern Wyoming. It is the county seat for one of the nation’s least-populated counties, Niobrara. Photo/Allen Best.

Wyoming, too, doesn’t want to be left behind. It joined with the effort to put electric charging infrastructure along major highways in concert with other Western states, despite the lack of current demand. Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, at at the Center for the New Energy Economy conference  in Fort Collins this week, characterized it as a chicken-and-egg situation. But given the importance of tourism in Wyoming, he said, “we don’t want to be left behind. We don’t want to be the gap state.”

Federal tax credits of $7,500 are available everywhere, but Colorado buyers have an additional incentive of $5,000 in state tax credits of, bringing an electric car so ld by Boulder Nissan, one of the West’s busiest electric-car dealers, down to about $22,500.

Boulder Nissan’s Nigel Zeid says tax credits will not always be needed to foster sales of electric vehicles. “This is like when you have a kid in college,” said Zeid, a member of the Colorado Electric Vehicle Coalition, a state-sponsored group. “Once you’re out (of college), you’re on your own.”

Zeid also sees range concerns diminishing. The Chevy Bolt has 238 miles of range, and Tesla’s Model X has 295 miles of range (but at a cost of $98,500). But many more models are coming with 150 miles of range, satisfactory for nearly all daily commutes. “Now that you have 150 to 200 mile range, range is not really an issue,” he says.

A Federal Highway Administration map shows existing fueling infrastructure for Colorado, Utah, and other states, not just for electricity but also hydrogen and natural gas. However, the map has been outdated in recent weeks by the announcement that Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico, and Idaho will be joining in the interstate infrastructure.

A case can be made that hydrogen still represents the fuel of the future. California now has 31 fueling stations and plans more. Colorado, perhaps surprisingly, also has some hydrogen fueling stations, all in the metropolitan area. Hydrogen fuel is energy dense and can be produced from water through a variety of fuels, both renewables and natural gas.

But U.S. car manufacturers are now rushing to produce electric cars. General Motors several weeks ago announced plans to embrace an all-electric, zero-emissions future, leaving behind the internal combustion engine “General Motors believes the future is all-electric,” says Mark Reuss, the company’s head of product. Wired Magazine reports that GM plans almost two-dozen fully electric models by 2023.

Other car manufacturers have also announced plans to offer new EV models. China and India are embracing electrified transportation as they develop their economies and try to tame emissions that have fouled skies and scarred lungs. China, Britain, and France all plan to ban sales of vehicles powered by fossil fuels but have not set dates.

Some see the transition to electric vehicles happening more slowly.

“I am not sure they (EVs) will come quite as fast as some people say,” said Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper at the Western Power Summit on Oct. 24. But one indication that it will occur sooner, he went on to say, is the announcement by GM of its robust commitment to EV models.

Some bumps in the road of this transition. “Certainly, there will be some issues around lithium and cobalt, two constituents of batteries. There could be some supply challenges,” says Toor, a former mayor of Boulder. “But I don’t think they will derail electrification.”

Discounts yields 42 EVs and hybrids in group buy

From April through June, a group buy for electric vehicles was organized in the Pitkin, Garfield, and Eagle county areas (Aspen, Glenwood Springs, and Vail).

Dealers in Boulder and Loveland, plus two in Glenwood Springs, were enlisted to offer discounts on top of the $12,500 state and federal tax credits. The best deal was offered by Boulder Nissan, which offered an $8,000 discount on Leafs. Other dealers offered somewhat lesser discounts for all electric and hybrid models.

The goal of 50 EV sales in the three-county area fell short: 42 were sold. However, the goal for 25 percent expansion of charging stations by the end of this year will almost certainly be exceeded. A recent report predicted an 85 percent increase.

The program was sponsored by Clean Energy Economy for the Region. It was based on similar group buys in the Fort Collins and Boulder areas in 2015 and 2016.

Notable was the support of Holy Cross Energy, the co-operative that serves most of the three counties. Holy Cross offered rebates of $200 to EV purchasers.

Can e-bikes help decongest the highway to Yellowstone?

JACKSON, Wyo. – Now come e-bikes and the question whether they can ease the congestion of cars found in ski towns like Jackson.

The specific question at hand is whether the e-bikes should be allowed on the local trails normally frequented by pedestrians and bicycle riders. Or should they instead be restricted to streets? Jackson town officials will soon be talking with their counterparts in Teton County, reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

An important distinction, according to the federal Consumer Product Safety Act, is 20 mph. That’s the maximum assisted speed when powered solely by the motor of a low-speed electric bike. However, there are some ways to use a larger motor, allowing an e-bike to go more than 30 mph without pedaling.

Brian Schilling, coordinator for Teton County Pathways, told Jackson town officials recently that e-bikes have been called a game-changer. He sees great potential for their application in Jackson during warm months.

“It changes the way people get around town, especially during the busy summer months when they don’t want to be sitting in traffic on Broadway,” he said, referring to the street that is the main street in Jackson and the primary route for many thousands of travelers going to and from Yellowstone National Park.

Crested Butte may slowly ease into paid parking

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Crested Butte is planning to take a year to gather public feedback before moving ahead with paid parking in the town’s interior.

The town has gone along with a committee’s recommendation and has allocated $45,000 for the year-long study and a community outreach effort.

“The committee feels parking in town is ‘free and easy’ and we can’t build our way out of the problem,” said Bob Nevins, town planner for Crested Butte, according to a story reported by the Crested Butte News. “I want to get people out of their cars,” said Jackson Petito, a council member.

The plan calls for paid parking along Elk Avenue, the town’s main street, and other adjoining areas. Residents will get permits. The start-up costs if the town decides to go forward will be $220,000, or about the same price as paving a parking lot.

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