Energy usage in La Plata County will continue to grow despite the economic downturn because of strong demand from the gas and oil industry, officials with the La Plata Electric Association said Tuesday.
Demand from the industry has ratcheted up in recent years as more and more wells are drilled and gas-fueled compressors and other machinery are switched to electricity to make them quieter and less polluting.
Greg Munro, chief executive officer of the cooperative, told La Plata County commissioners during their meeting that demand, currently about 1 billion kilowatt hours a year, is expected to double by around 2025. It should plateau for a period after that and then begin to decline.
LPEA, which was asked by commissioners to make the presentation, expects to lay new lines to more than 1,000 wells in the next 15 years or so. Some of those will be above ground and some will be underground. It also will build a 230-kilovolt transmission line from New Mexico to the Ignacio area and about eight substations to service the industry. In all, the improvements will cost more than $100 million.
Munro said the gas and oil companies cover the cost of the infrastructure and will pay to have the lines removed when they are done with them, unless they are needed for other users.
Commissioner Joelle Riddle expressed a concern that the lines could attract unwanted development. County staff emphasized the need to coordinate their long-term plans with the electric cooperative.
Munro said, were it not for the industry, energy demand would be flat as the incremental increases of previous years are stifled by the slackening economy.
Asked about how much renewable sources will contribute toward meeting future demand, Munro said Tri-State, LPEA's wholesale provider, determines what mix of sources to use to meet the supply demands of its 44 member cooperatives.
State law requires utilities to include a certain amount of renewables in their portfolios. And Tri-State has a green-power program that allows consumers to purchase power generated from renewable sources. Munro said LPEA focuses its efforts on encouraging conservation and improving efficiency.
Other matters discussed:•As the county embarks on drafting a comprehensive plan, commissioners heard a report on land-use trends in recent years. These all point to a decline in activity, though certain pockets, such as commercial leasing and high-end homes, have shown staying power.
Land-use permits, excluding gas and oil, fell from 220 in 2006 to 168 in 2008. Residential building permits went from 63 in the first two months of 2007 to 49 in the same period for 2009. Many of this year's permits are for remodels.
•Faced with declines in sales-tax revenue, the county is reviewing its budget for potential cuts.
In January 2009, the county saw its sales-tax revenue declined from about $1.2 million to $1.14 million, compared to the same month in 2008.
The figure also declined 9.4 percent in December 2008, though gains in other months left the county with a year-to-year increase of about 1 percent.
County Manager Shawn Nau said the budget review showed most of the county's money was being spent wisely. The downside of that: "There just isn't a lot of fat to cut," he said.
•Commissioners approved a green-purchasing policy that allows the county to pay a premium of up to 2 percent for goods and services that are either local or environmentally friendly. A policy to require and track recycling also was approved.