Meeting introduces Governor’s Energy Office to Grand County
February 8, 2008
Representatives from the Governor’s Energy Office (GEO) met yesterday with Grand County community members to discuss opportunities for renewable energy resources and energy efficiency.
Liz McIntyre, a longtime Grand County resident and environmental advocate, organized the meeting to introduce community members and leaders to what the GEO has to offer.
“One of the reasons I asked people to come (to this meeting) is our county is relatively not built out, compared to other counties,” McIntyre told the roomful of community members. “We have the opportunity as we move forward to make sure our county’s housing stock and community stock is really efficient. That would give us a huge advantage over other places already built out.”
Roughly 15 to 20 people attended, including Grand County Commissioner Nancy Stuart and Grand County Chairman Gary Bumgarner, and representatives from the East Grand School District.
The meeting was led by Joani Matranga, western regional representative for the GEO. Matranga spoke of the various energy conservation incentives the GEO offers to commercial buildings and residents, such as grants for wind and solar powered buildings, and money toward energy efficient appliances.
“About 76 percent of all power plant generated electricity is used to operate buildings. It produces over half of our greenhouse gas emissions,” she said.
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Matranga pointed to the $18 million bond issue that recently passed for the East Grand School District. With the new expansions expected at the schools, she hopes the school district can work with the GEO to come up with some renewable energy projects.
Finding more uses for dead trees could help energy crisis
Representative Joe Pandy kicked off the meeting with his ideas for using energy created by beetle kill trees and transforming it into thermal energy.
Grand County is the hardest hit county in Colorado, Pandy said. Roughly 90 percent of the trees are dead or dying. He is currently working on a project in Jackson County that would transform the dead wood into a gas, that could then be used as fuel. He believes the trees could be used to heat schools and other large buildings, including homes.
“There is plenty of thermal value in wood after the beetles get it,” Pandy said. “And we could serve a major part of Jackson County if we can do this right. If we can, we can do it in Grand County.”
Pandy hopes to break ground on the project in 2009, he said. He said there are enough resources available for this type of industry for the next 20 to 40 years.
“If the forest service and the government would cooperate in releasing it,” he said.
“The whole energy industry is in crisis. Whatever form of energy you use, the prices are just going to the moon, and there’s no end in sight. If we can find local solutions that can be spread in smaller communities.”
Pellet plants: The chicken and egg theory
When talking of incentives, McIntryre asked the roomful of community members what types of impediments they see in using, for instance, pellet boilers to heat new buildings such as the new courthouse, and the new recreation center. Pellet boilers use beetle kill or regular wood and turn it into heat.
Commissioner Stuart said the county looked at using biomass fuels in the new courthouse, but at the time of construction, the infrastructure was not there. The cost was also extremely high, she said, with the price of hauling wood to the site and the extra people it would take to run it.
“I’m familiar with schools heated with pellet boilers. I’ve been to Austria, Finland, and I see how they handle their heating,” McIntryre said. “I think of us, and there’s so much opportunity. Is it something we can take on and fix and use as an opportunity for our schools?”
Bumgarner pointed out that if the county decided to put in the infrastructure for burning wood pellets, then if 10 years from now there is no longer use for it, “the taxpayers will be saying what fools the county was.”
“I think part of the government’s responsibility is to look at the long term,” he said.
Greg Mordini, project manager for Forest Energy Colorado who is heading up a pellet plant outside of Kremmling, pointed out that three pellet plants are being constructed currently ” one in Walden, one in Kremmling, and his.
“If we don’t have the demand, it’s going to kill the industry immediately,” Mordini said. “What we’d like to see the government doing is help us stimulate the demand. We’d like to see more incentives, (such as) energy credits.”
Therein lies the chicken and egg theory, Matranga said. “The ‘chicken and egg’ problem is something we’re studying. We’re trying to work with communities who want to put these systems in large public buildings.”
Incentives for homeowners
Matranga also talked about residential energy, and what the state can offer to homeowners for being more energy efficient.
The state passed a law that upgrades the existing building code standards, and is offering free training and education for this upgrade, Matranga explained. Since Grand County’s code is currently not upgraded, Matrange said the GEO will be in contact with the county to upgrade its building codes.
Energy Star, for example, has partnered with GEO to offer matching grants to various communities for using Energy Star products. Energy Star new construction is 15 percent above code construction in energy efficiency, Matranga said. Some counties have reduced their permit fees if someone is doing energy rating, she said.
There are also rebates for homeowners who insulate and seal their homes, and there’s funds available for low-income housing to have energy-saving appliances.
Residents feel Grand County should step it up
Jerry Nissen, who said he builds at least one home a year, said he’s frustrated with the lack of incentives for homeowners in Grand County for building in an energy-efficient manner. He’s also frustrated with the county, he said, for not finding a better way to dispose of all the beetle kill trees.
“I understand it has to be economically feasible, but (the county) needs to push the envelope a little bit on making a decision,” Nissen said after the meeting. “What about all these trees? Do we just burn them in slash piles? It’s such a shame these trees are being thrown away or buried. And we’ve got slash piles going all over the county.”
McIntyre said she was pleased with the turnout and the contacts made. She hopes the meeting informed others about the programs available.
“Personally, I think there’s so many programs that could benefit the residents and businesses and everybody up here, from beetle kill to insulating their attic and sealing around your windows,” she said. “Also, getting people aware of what the GEO does, it makes energy considerations more in the forefront of decision making, and I think that’s important.”