Positive partnership brings energy independence home
By Bryan Hannegan and Carrie Besnette Hauser
October 1, 2022
Over the past year there has been more debate than ever over whether it is possible to slow or halt climate change. When even Washington, D.C. is taking action on climate change, you know that it’s increasingly top-of-mind for many.
But here in rural Colorado, we have been making real, tangible progress. Our two organizations are working together to not only set ambitious goals to reduce our carbon footprint, but to exceed or significantly accelerate our progress toward those goals.
How are we doing this? By partnering to build a solar array with battery storage at Colorado Mountain College’s Spring Valley campus, meeting the needs of both the college and Holy Cross Energy (HCE). This 4.5-megawatt array, designed and built by Ameresco, is nearing completion and HCE has a purchase power agreement for the energy produced. Not only will the electricity these panels generate be credited to the local campus, it will also offset powering up CMC’s campuses in Aspen and Edwards, as well as future construction on these three campuses.
HCE has already embarked on one of the most ambitious renewable energy goals in the country: to provide members with 100% clean energy by 2030. HCE also aims to completely offset its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2035. Of 1,500 energy providers in the country, only six have set such an ambitious goal.
CMC has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2050. Energy-efficient, cost-effective solutions are continually sought; geothermal and solar systems provide energy directly to several campuses. However, this particular public-private partnership is different from what we have done alone. The project’s signature attribute is significant battery storage, which will enable the college to meet about 25% of the total energy needed across all 11 campuses. Together, significant battery storage and this powerful partnership truly raise the bar.
Exceptional collaborations like the one between HCE and CMC must become the rule going forward. Relationships between energy providers and colleges, and the people we each serve, are rapidly evolving. Co-op members, customers and college students are demanding clean energy; we must meet them where they are.
Both HCE and CMC started when farmers, ranchers and small business owners recognized and acted on the needs of rugged and remote communities. Here in the rural West, we have long understood we are stronger when we work together. Neighbors help neighbors, whether raising a barn or lending a tool. In the good old days, we’d go a mile down the road to borrow a cup of sugar; now we’re borrowing cups of electrons.
The magic of forging an alliance on this project is that, while other parts of the world are fighting and civil discourse is deeply compromised, we’re focusing our energy on win-wins and making progress. We’re building a living laboratory where students who’ve come to CMC to learn about sustainability can do it hands on, in real time.
The next set of projects we undertake might be creating smarter building controls for CMC campuses, or empowering the college to generate all of its own power. Students can earn certificates, associate degrees, and a bachelor’s degree in environmental and sustainability disciplines. Perhaps not surprisingly, CMC’s latest offering is a Bachelor of Science in ecosystems science and stewardship. (To learn more about sustainability at CMC, please go to https://coloradomtn.edu/programs/sustainability-studies/.)
The collaborative model we’ve described here is one we are hoping other organizations and energy companies will adapt. We invite local jurisdictions and large employers to get creative about engaging with community energy systems design.
Partnering is cost-effective for both HCE and CMC. While there might be less expensive ways to complete a project like this solar array in the short term, by working together we become more resilient. Partnering is local, not subject to the whims of the transmission grid. It fosters good, local jobs. It means we don’t have to rely on fickle, or even hostile, countries in far-flung parts of the world – or wait for Washington to catch up.
Bryan Hannegan is Holy Cross Energy’s president & CEO and Carrie Besnette Hauser is president & CEO of Colorado Mountain College.