Utility debate opens Green Summit
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Sarah Van Pelt, environmental coordinator at Western Disposal Services Inc., speaks during the Boulder County Business Report's “Green Summit: Blending Business & The Environment,” which drew 140 attendees to the Millennium Harvest House Boulder. Western Disposal was one of the Aug. 7 event's major sponsors.
Rick Bernheim, chief executive of Boulder-based Power Tagging Technologies Inc., describes hardware and computer software made by his company that he said helps make the existing American power grid more efficient. He was a panelist at a Green Summit session titled “Clean Tech: Big Ideas in Net Zero.”
John Tayer, a Regional Transportation District board member representing District O, outlines mass-transit spending priorities and realities during a Green Summit session called “SlowTracks: Is Boulder on a light-rail fast track to nowhere?”
Dan Vonalt, president and chief executive of Main Street Mat Co., took a more than 100-year-old building on South Main Street in Longmont and turned a laundry into a business that specialized in renting and cleaning floor mats for businesses. Through developing a wastewater treatment and recycling system and using pH-balanced and citrus-based soap, Main Street Mat cut its water use in half.
Brian Tierney, left, and Ross Alexander, right, of FlatIron Transportation LLC, doing business as Green Ride Boulder, describe the environmentally conscious vehicle on display at the Green Summit. The company was to begin service to Denver International Airport on Aug. 14.
Nick Reckinger, left, of Georgia Boys BBQ in Longmont receives a Waste Diversion award from Bryce Isaacson, Western Disposal Services Inc.’s vice president of sales and marketing, during the Green Summit: Blending Business & The Environment on Aug. 7. Boulder-based Western Disposal, a trash-hauling business that serves Boulder and Broomfield counties, handed out awards to six companies that have had great success at reducing landfill waste by diverting materials and recycling.
Jerome Davis, Xcel Energy regional vice president and the executive in charge of community relations in Colorado, represented the company, while Heather Bailey, the city of Boulder's executive director of energy strategy and electric utility development, represented the city during the opening session of the Boulder County Business Report's annual Green Summit: Blending Business & the Environment. The conference, held Aug. 7, drew 140 attendees to the Millennium Harvest House Boulder and included expert breakout sessions, green-business exhibitors, lunch and an awards reception.
The debate over municipalization has quieted considerably since last November, when Boulder voters narrowly approved a ballot measure giving the city the authority to study and possibly form a municipal utility.
Boulder is studying its options, and Bailey is getting acquainted with the community and issues, she said. She began in the newly created role this summer.
The city has set strict goals a potential utility must meet before it could be created, and Bailey said her effort will be to study whether those goals are attainable. Her goal is to be transparent and open to the community, both residents and businesses, she said.
The city is driving the process, Davis said. Xcel Energy Inc. (NYSE: XEL) does not want to sell its assets in Boulder — including poles, wires and substations — to the city. If the city attempts to acquire them through use of eminent domain, Xcel Energy expects the issue will be resolved in court.
"We are preparing for costly and lengthy litigation," Davis said. "This is not our preferred choice at all, but we do have to prepare for it."
Before coming to a decision, Bailey said, the city would reach out to businesses in Boulder. She said she has begun talking with some of the larger businesses in Boulder to understand their concerns. Davis said that businesses in Boulder use 70 percent of the energy provided by Xcel.
For all businesses, Bailey said, she plans to make herself available for them to "either vent or to provide ideas."
Xcel Energy wants local businesses to keep a watchful eye on the city.
"You need to demand accountability from the city. You need to ask questions, you need to participate, and you need to make sure the fringe does not override the mainstream," Davis said.
Davis reiterated Xcel Energy's belief that the city could best achieve its goals while remaining in the Xcel system.
— Michael Davidson
Firms improve power grids
Two local energy companies showed off new technology to make existing power grids work more efficiently at a Green Summit session on clean technology.
Hardware and computer software made by Power Tagging Technologies Inc. helps make the existing American power grid more efficient, according to Rick Bernheim, president and chief executive at the company based in Boulder. Software made by HOMER, or Hybrid Optimization Model for Electric Renewables Energy LLC, in Boulder measures energy used by microgrid power systems, said Peter Lilienthal, chief executive of the company.
Bernheim and Lilienthal spoke at the session, which was moderated by Christine Shapard, executive director of the Colorado Cleantech Industry Association.
"Clean tech" generally is the term used to describe any renewable-energy system. It also can be any new way to make traditional energy systems work more efficiently, Shapard said.
Sam Weaver, president and CEO of Cool Energy Inc., a Boulder waste-heat equipment maker, and Gary Horton, president of Western Disposal Services Inc., the trash, recycling and composting company, also spoke about their companies' renewable-energy initiatives.
Power Tagging offers "grid location awareness" software to help utility customers save energy and money, Bernheim said. Specifically, power is cheaper at off-peak times of use monitored by the software. Bernheim discussed specific ways to save energy, from using programmable thermostats on furnaces to installing switches on air conditioners that turn them off during peak use periods.
Rather than work on large power grids, HOMER Electric focuses on "microgrids," which can be as small as a generator used to power a store on a remote island, Lilienthal said. HOMER energy-modeling software customers can see whether the diesel generator or a renewable energy such as solar power might be cheaper in price, Lilienthal said. For example, an island government might use HOMER software to look at energy produced by wind turbines, batteries, biomass and diesel generators to see which one would cost least. The company has done work in nearly 200 nations, Lilienthal said.
"There are so many options and so much information. We build a piece of software that helps people sort things out," Lilienthal said. "What makes sense in this location isn't the same as another location."
Cool Energy is able to recover "waste heat" and turn it into other energy through equipment the company makes. The equipment can offer a payback period as short as one-and-a-half to two years, Weaver said. Customers pay about $15,000 for one of the "waste heat" pieces of equipment, Weaver said. "Waste heat" is generated in many industrial processes, he said.
"The challenge is, you have to buy the equipment up front," Weaver said, "but then you never have to fuel it."
Western Disposal is converting its fleet of trucks from regular gas to natural gas to cut air pollution and ultimately save money, Horton said. The switchover for the company's 70-vehicle fleet is expected to be $2 million, Horton said. Separately, the company uses a sophisticated mapping system to help drivers drive the trucks as efficiently as possible, which also saves money, Horton said.
— Beth Potter
FasTracks? Not so fast
There apparently is no light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to the projected 41-mile Northwest Rail line from Denver to Longmont that would have run through the Boulder Valley.
The projection that only 9,700 riders per day would get aboard the planned rail line, along with a doubling in cost and the fact that the Regional Transportation District already has spent all its FasTracks money on projects in and around Denver, has some saying the rail line won't happen for at least 30 years, if at all.
John Tayer, an RTD board member representing District O; Matt Applebaum, mayor of Boulder; and George Gerstle, transportation director for Boulder County, participated in a Green Summit panel discussion, "SlowTracks: Is Boulder on a light-rail fast track to nowhere?"
Tayer said the cost to build the rail line using tracks owned by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad jumped from an estimated $894.6 million in 2011 to $1.7 billion today.
Even if the line were built, Tayer said, trains along the line would run only every half-hour during peak hours and at one-hour intervals during off peak times.
Voters along the U.S. Highway 36 corridor and all the way to Longmont were asked to back the building of the rail line by passing a tax, but that was before the full cost was understood.
Tayer said RTD has spent all its money on projects in and around Denver. He said currently 81 miles of rail line, including the West Rail Line in Lakewood, have been built. He said the build-out of Denver Union Station is 63 percent complete. Work is under way on routes from downtown Denver to Arvada and to Denver International Airport, along with connections to Interstate 225 and construction of express lanes along U.S. 36 toward — but not to — Boulder.
That has raised the ire of officials in Longmont and Louisville, who made their discontent heard in an Aug. 6 joint meeting of the two cities' councils.
"It's a fine line between being a regional player and taken for a chump," Gerstle said Tuesday at the summit.
Applebaum of Boulder doesn't hold out any hope for a rail line.
"If you are under 30, maybe. The rest of you? You don't stand a chance," he told the 25 people attending the panel discussion moderated by Clif Harald, executive director of the Boulder Economic Council.
"I'm annoyed that there is no plan in place for BRT (bus rapid transit), since rail is decades away," Applebaum said.
The sprawling nature of cities in the Boulder Valley, along with low projections for ridership on mass transit, is part of the problem. The future of mass transit in the Boulder Valley is unclear, and that is unsettling to Gerstle, who said the majority of people work in cities other than where they live. "It's hard to get people to bus in East County cities," he said.
Tayer said it's time for RTD to regroup and try to solve the problem.
— Doug Storum
Firms hail rebates, incentives
Rebates and incentives through the EnergySmart program were hailed by representatives of area commercial ventures, who have made use of them to achieve dramatic energy savings and reductions in their use of resources.
Six area business leaders detailed their energy-saving measures during the summit's "High Fives" session, during which representatives of the companies gave five-minute presentations on their successes in sustainability.
Shaun Oshman, founder and chief executive of information technology support company iSupportU LLC, described his venture's moved from a garage in a back alley to a 2,700-square-foot space at 1825 Pearl St. in Boulder. There was early resistance to replacing 100-watt incandescent lights with LEDs, he said, because "we had all pictured BMW blue light" — but his staff discovered that many colors were available and "we let them pick what color lighting they liked."
iSupportU opened "the first and only satellite drop-off site for the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials," or CHARM, Oshman said, and cooled its workspace with ceiling fans and evaporative coolers that saved on air-conditioning costs.
Dan Vonalt, president and CEO of Main Street Mat Co., took a more than 100-year-old building on South Main Street in Longmont and turned a laundry into a business that specialized in renting and cleaning floor mats for businesses.
"As an industry, a cleaners is a polluter of the environment," he said. "Clean sheets go back to the customer, but the dirt stays with the laundry" and goes into wastewater. Through developing a wastewater treatment and recycling system and using pH-balanced and citrus-based soap, Main Street Mat cut its water use in half, Vonalt said, ending up using a gallon per pound washed whereas most laundries use two to four gallons per pound.
His team converted a General Motors car engine into an electricity co-generating system that runs on natural gas and is coupled with an induction electric motor. "We are able to generate twice as much electricity as we need," he said. "The city of Longmont buys back what we don't need. It's nice of them — and it's the law.
"We've eliminated our electric demand and not used any more natural gas in the process," he said.
Seth Chernoff purchased a 37,120-square-foot building at 4665 Nautilus Court in Boulder in 2007, and replaced windows, lighting, plumbing and the HVAC system with the help of rebates and tax credits. One of his eight new tenants wants to pay for its own solar array.
Similar savings were achieved at the 7,514-square-foot Whiterock Building, 1731 15th St., just off Boulder's Pearl Street Mall. For general manager Stephanie Bingham, the proof is in the numbers. The cost of the retrofitting project was $14,973, and $6,385 was returned in rebates, resulting in a total out-of-pocket cost of $8,589. She estimates that at current prices, the annual energy cost savings should be $2,452, meaning that the project will be paid for in about 3.5 years. A lighting upgrade alone resulted in a 43 percent energy savings, she said.
Solar energy was the key to savings at the Boulder Creek Quality Inn and Suites, where general manager Dana Sailer-Mielke helped convert the facility into the first solar-powered hotel in Boulder, using 112 roof-mounted panels. New LED lighting, dual-pane windows, dual-flush toilets and an energy-management system that turns off heating and cooling when a guest leaves a room were part of the improvements.
Brian Schaeffer, shift brewer and efficiency lead at Longmont-based Oskar Blues Brewery LLC, described the beermaker's pioneering idea to package craft beers in totally recyclable aluminum cans, as well as its energy-saving air compressors. The company runs a sustainable farm that produces hay and beef cattle and uses spent grain from the brewery to feed them, he said.
Panel moderator Pam Milmoe, air quality and business sustainability coordinator for Boulder County, reminded those attending the session that an energy-loan program was to begin the next day as part of a joint venture of the county and Elevations Credit Union. The reduced-cost loans for residential and business energy-saving upgrades are boosted by a Better Buildings grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, funded through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.
— Dallas Heltzell
Awards delivered at summit
To close out the Green Summit, the Boulder County Business Report presented a cocktail reception where it honored Eco Heroes of the Boulder Valley — individuals who are contributing to sustainable business services.
Awards were presented to: Shaun LaBarre, Center for ReSource Conservation; Julie Herman, Colorado Green Building Guild; Kai Abelkis, Boulder Community Hospital; Elizabeth Train, Boulder B-cycle; Barry Bennett, Native Ecology Inc.; and Margaret Rogers, Populus Inc.
Best of Green Building
The Colorado Green Building Guild presented the Boulder Valley Best of Green Building Awards during the reception. The awards committee, led by Henry Mueller, owner of Henry Mueller Design Inc., looked at how nominees were trying to reduce their "carbon footprint," not just the energy savings associated with the projects. The committee also looked at how recycled and re-used materials were used in projects.
Adaptive Reuse of Existing Building: eTown Colorado DLLC, 1545 Spruce St., Boulder, for its "beautiful transformation of an existing landmark building."
Educational Facility: Casey Middle School, 1301 High St., Boulder.
Health-care Facility: Aspen Meadow Veterinary Specialists PC, 104 S. Main St., Longmont, for a makeover of an existing building. It's the first Partner for a Clean Environment, or PACE, certified veterinary hospital in Colorado.
Multiresidential Building: University of Colorado-Boulder's Williams Village North building near the corner of 30th Street and Baseline Road in Boulder. The $46.5 million dormitory has received numerous other awards, including LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design,-platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.
Cutting-Edge: Synergistic Building Technologies Inc., 1335 Deer Trail Road, Boulder, for its use of passive solar-collection strategies in its building.
Improvement on a Commercial Building: Ocean First Divers LLC, 3015 Bluff St., Boulder, for a "comprehensive approach to sustainability" in building design, operation and retail at its building.
Residential: The 1247 Scrub Oak residence, for having the most "easy to replicate" design for future projects.
Improvement on a Historic Building: The Colorado Chautauqua Association cabin renovations, 900 Baseline Road, Boulder, for "extending the buildings' life cycle.
Hospitality for a "Green" Hotel, Bed and Breakfast, Resort or Retreat: Goldminer Hotel, 601 Klondyke Ave., Eldora, for reducing energy consumption with a building retrofit while still preserving the same look and feel that the building had when it was built.
Western Disposal Services Inc. presented its Waste Diversion Awards during the luncheon at the summit.
Businesses honored for their success at reducing landfill waste by diverting materials and recycling were: IBM Corp., Boulder; Hotel Boulderado in Boulder; Lucile's Creole Cafe in Boulder and Longmont; Georgia Boys BBQ, Longmont; Cake Top Publishing, Louisville; Planet Bluegrass, Lyons.
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