Xcel Energy Is Penalizing Small Businesses Which Offer Workplace Charging

Golden Real Estate is justly proud — if I say so myself — of having a Net Zero Energy office, meaning that our solar photovoltaic panels produce all the electricity needed to heat, cool and power our office as well as to the charge the five Teslas owned by our agents and me and offering free EV charging to the general public. (We have four EV charging stations at our office — two for our own use and two for the public.)

Meanwhile, Xcel Energy boasts that it is moving in the direction of 100% renewable energy and facilitating the adoption of electric vehicles. A big part of that is promoting “workplace charging.”

Xcel is right to promote workplace charging over, say, charging stations at retail stores, because cars are parked for up to 8 hours at one’s workplace — long enough to fully charge almost any EV using a standard Level 2 (240V) charging station.

So why is Xcel Energy penalizing small companies like Golden Real Estate which have already installed workplace charging stations for EVs?

As stated above, we generate all the electricity needed at our office on South Golden Road. Until this March, our monthly Xcel bill was under $11 every month — the cost of being connected to Xcel’s electric grid.

But now our Xcel bill is over $300 per month, even though we are still generating all the electricity we use. How can that be?  It’s because one day in March we drew over 30,000 watts of energy during a single 15-minute period, converting us automatically from standard “commercial” service to “demand” service. That means that in addition to the charges for electricity consumption, we are now charged for the highest amount of electricity that we draw during each month.

So our electric bill at Golden Real Estate is now over $300 per month regardless of the amount of actual electricity we consume during any particular month. To put it in numbers, we are charged about $15 per kilowatt for peak demand, and our monthly maximum draw of power is usually about 20 kilowatts.  Thus, we are charged $300 each month even though our net consumption of electricity is zero!

The only way we could draw over 25 kW of electricity at a given time is because we are charging cars at all four charging stations, something Xcel says they want to encourage.

When I communicated my dilemma to Xcel Energy, the response was to tell me that they’re introducing a new EV charging tariff later this summer. Unfortunately, the tariff requires that Xcel install the charging stations and offers nothing to those of us who were early adopters and already have charging stations in place.

Under Xcel’s proposed EV tariff, my penalty would drop to a little over $100 per month. But that’s still a $100 penalty.

The logical solution would be for Xcel to modify its commercial tariff to make the demand threshold 50 or 75 kW instead of 25 kW for forcing small businesses like us into their demand tariffs.

Now some good news.

I made these same arguments during public comments at a May 13th virtual hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) adjudicating an Xcel Energy rate case. This Monday, that ALJ published his ruling and cited my own testimony in ordering Xcel to increase its demand threshold to 50 kW.

I had made the same argument a couple years ago during public comments at a regular PUC meeting, but I got no satisfaction at that time, so I wasn’t expecting to be more successful this time, but I was.

Ironically, I had already written this column with no clue that the ruling was about to be handed down. Indeed, this column was uploaded to three Jeffco weekly newspapers Monday morning without this news.

The ALJ’s ruling has a few more steps before it is finalized.  Parties to the case can make final pleas and seek Commission reconsideration, akin to last ditch arguments, but I’m hopeful that my Xcel bill will return to $10.26/month soon.

Green Home of the Month

Jen Grauer in her kitchen

Each month we feature a different home from the 2020 Metro Denver Green Homes Tour. With 11 kW of solar panels, super-insulation, induction cooktops and ground-source heat pumps powering eight hydronic mini-splits throughout this 4-level, multi-generational home, the owners have a monthly Xcel Energy bill of $5 to $10 per month — even after charging their electric car. I learned a lot from this home! You’ll really like the sustainable design elements of the kitchen. Watch my narrated video tour at www.GreenHomeoftheMonth.com. Or click on this thumbnail:

We and Our Truck Go the Extra Mile for Our Clients!

    Our clients have put a lot of miles on this box truck, saving them thousands of dollars on moving costs. They also get free moving boxes, packing paper and bubble wrap.  They only pay for the gas used.  The truck is also used twice a week by BGoldN to pick up food from Food Bank of the Rockies and by other non-profits, including Family Promise of Greater Denver and the Golden Chamber of Commerce.

We also use it ourselves every couple weeks to take truckloads of polystyrene (aka “Styrofoam,” a brand name) to a reprocessing center in Aurora, keeping over 200 cubic yards of the material out of landfills every year. People from all over Jefferson County (and beyond) bring their block white polystyrene to the Styrofoam Corral behind our office.

Let’s Make Our Summer a Little Bit Quieter

Walking our dog, Chloe, is a favorite daily routine for me. Recently, I passed a neighbor mowing his lawn with a battery electric lawn mower, and I thanked him for doing so. “I love it,” he replied, and it got me thinking how nice it would be if more neighbors ditched their noisy gasoline lawn mowers, edgers, trimmers and blowers now that electric versions of each (both battery & corded) are widely available and affordable.

The next time your gas-powered device needs a tune-up, use that money to purchase of an electric version and you’ll enjoy not only a quieter neighborhood but no future tune-ups, no struggles to start the device, and lower cost overall.

I have read that a lawn mower emits more pollution than an automobile. A quick Google search on the topic produced the following:

“The EPA estimates that hour- for-hour, gasoline powered lawn mowers produce 11 times as much pollution as a new car. According to the EPA, each gas-powered lawn mower produces as much air pollution as 43 new automobiles driven 12,000 miles per year – lawn care produces 13 billion pounds of toxic pollutants per year.”

My stepson has a small lawn and is happy to use an old-style rotary push mower. I have a 10-year-old corded electric mower that has never needed repair and a battery powered weed eater which only needs me to replace the string now and then — my biggest annoyance!

June’s ‘Green Home of the Month’ Is For Sale!

6776 Wood Rock Road — Just Listed at $795,000

Each month we feature another one of the homes on last fall’s Metro Denver Green Homes Tour. The home we chose to feature this month is the Van de Rijdt home at 6776 Wood Rock Road, 11 miles up Golden Gate Canyon, which Jim Smith just listed for sale. Rather than shoot a new video tour narrated by Jim, we suggest you view the video tour Jim created for the green homes tour, in which the homeowner, Martijn van de Rijdt, explains the many sustainable features of his Net Zero Energy home. You can find that video tour on this home’s listing site, www.JeffcoSolarHomes.com. The video describes, for example, the radiant floor heating via an air source heat pump (picture below) which is powered, like the rest of the house, by a ground-mounted solar photovoltaic array on the hillside behind the house. There are so many sustainable features that the video took 16 minutes. If you have longed to live in a passive solar designed net zero energy home, and if you like the idea of living on 10 acres off a gated back road in the foothills, this might be the home for you. Jim will hold it open this Saturday, June 5th, 11am to 2pm.  Or call your agent or Jim at 303-525-1851 for a private showing.

The air source heat pump above creates hot water for the 5-zone radiant floor heating system below.
80-Gallon heat pump water heater at left.
Seller took this picture of two moose in their meadow, plus another picture of the bull moose.
Wildflowers abound on the 10-acre lot, 2 of which are wooded.
A patio with outdoor kitchen is on the east and north (shaded) side of the house.
Main floor features polished concrete floors and kitchen with quartz countertops.
Enjoy this valley and mountain view from the patio on the east front of the house.
The seller’s woodworking shop has the same great view!
Master bedroom and 2 guest bedrooms all have great views, too!

Do You Own a Green Home?

The Metro Denver Green Homes Tour is looking for homes to feature on its next tour, October 2nd, 2021. If your home has features that would make it a good addition to this fall’s green home tour — super insulation, solar, HVAC, etc. — contact Sheila Townsend at sheilactownsend@gmail.com or Jim Smith at Jim@GoldenRealEstate.com.

Take a video tour of a different home from 2020’s Metro Denver Green Homes Tour every month at www.GreenHomeoftheMonth.com.

Arvada’s Net Zero Energy Geos Community Faces a Challenge From New Developer

The Geos Community located southwest of Indiana Street and 72nd Avenue in Arvada is a shining example of what’s possible in net zero energy home construction.

Geos Solar PV

All Geos homes are solar powered and have no natural gas service. Heating and cooling is provided by ground source or air source heat pumps. Water heaters utilize heat pumps, not gas, and all the homes and townhouses are built according to passive solar design standards.

 Two Geos homes were on last fall’s Metro Denver Green Homes Tour, and you can view narrated video tours of them by clicking on that link.

Now a developer has bought the remaining land within the Geos Community but is intending to install natural gas service in all the homes they will build. Naturally, the current residents are quite upset about this turn of events and are hoping to convince the City of Arvada not to allow this diminution of the original intent of Geos to be a strictly net zero energy community.

Visit www.DiscoverGeos.com to appreciate this community’s net zero energy mission.

Rainer W Gerbatsch, a Geos resident, in an email to Linda Hoover, Senior Planner for the City of Arvada, expressed concern about the new developer’s plan to deviate from the community’s principles by installing natural gas in future homes. Here is Ms. Hoover’s emailed response:

Thank you for your strong interest in your community.  I was forwarded your concerns regarding the new upcoming development in the GEOS Neighborhood and I will do my best to address your comments.  The GEOS Development was approved 12 years ago.  I took over as the staff planner for this project in 2014 when the previous planner left the City.  When GEOS was approved, it was intended to be a sustainable community and Norbert Klebl tried for many many years to obtain the funding to make that happen.  To date,  the only homes constructed out there are on Block 10 which has a mix of the staggered “checkerboard” single family detached homes and townhome units.  This totals approximately 38 units out of the 282 planned.  While the existing homes have a number of sustainable features, SunStudios (Architect) and Laudick Engineering are telling us that marketing of this concept has been very difficult in part due to the economics of having a development without gas service and other unique features of this development, such as having custom designed mechanical heating systems, etcetera.  Most of the larger home builders want developments that have gas service.  As you may know, this development went through a bankruptcy last summer.  The new owners are currently in the process of working with a new builder – Dream Finders Homes.  As Dream Finders comes on board, they are planning on keeping many of Norbert’s original concepts, but wanting to make some adaptations to make it economically feasible.  The lot layout which has the staggered checkerboard placement of single family detached homes in the middle of the block and townhome units on the ends of the block will remain as originally intended.  As a result these homes will continue to have the same architecture and passive solar design.  In addition, solar panels will be placed on the rooftops and appliances will be energy efficient.  These new homes will follow the Building Code to construct energy efficient homes.  The building codes adopted by the City already allow various paths/choices to construct very efficient (minimum energy code) all the way to net-zero buildings – the traditional codes were followed to build the first 38 units. It is my understanding that DreamFinders would prefer to have the project served by gas, but are still looking into the economics of this issue.   

This development was and still is zoned PUD (Planned Unit Development) which has its own unique design requirements rather than following the standards in the City’s Land Development Code (LDC).  The GEOS Design Book states that “architecture should strive for Energy Self-Sufficiency and the avoidance of Fossil Fuels.”  It also identifies net zero homes as one of the intended goals (not requirements) and further clarifies that that “goal can be achieved by combining good solar orientation and good insulation with geothermal or solar thermal heat, and photovoltaics.” However, it is silent on the issue of gas service.  

As a result, we would allow the development to be built without gas service (just as was done for the first phase of GEOS) provided alternatives were ensured.  However, no restrictions were included in the Design Book or on the project approvals that prohibited gas service. Passive systems, energy efficient buildings, heat recovery ventilation are guidelines not requirements.  

Sent 5/13/2021

Here is Rainer’s response to Ms. Hoover’s email:

I am familiar with the background of GEOS and the more recent events. Contrary to your statement that net-zero homes are difficult to sell, recent sales activity of homes in GEOS show just the opposite – there is high interest in these homes resulting in higher than expected returns for the seller and very short listing periods. It would appear that cited developer/builder statements are either uninformed or demonstrate an unwillingness to engage in construction practices that are a win-win situation for the builder, the buyer, and perhaps most importantly, the environment we all rely on. Also, I contacted and asked the architect whether he supported the cited developer/builder statements, and he responded that he did not.

Studies of completed net-zero buildings in Colorado (including GEOS) conducted by SWEEP also show that the initial cost of net-zero, all-electric homes at this time is on par with so-called traditional (polluting) construction. Net-zero construction represents a clear choice once future buyers understand that (1) these homes represent (already at this time) substantial yearly savings in energy use/expenditures (fossil fuel based energy costs will only increase as the cost of natural gas escalates based on the need to curtail and ultimately eliminate gas as a potent driver of climate change), and (2) eliminate health risks related to exposure to gas appliances and fossil-fuel burning heating devices that generate a variety of air pollutants which have been linked to cancer, decreased lung function, heart disease and a host more diseases. While these risks have been recognized for some time, they are finally receiving mainstream media attention. However, resolution is not possible without the engagement of all levels of government with developers/builders on more responsible construction practices. In summary, net-zero construction is currently superior to traditional construction because of reduction in emissions, elimination of health issues traced to fossil fuel based energy use in homes, and escalating future costs of fossil fuels, particularly natural gas.

GEOS’ prominence as a leader in de-carbonized and sustainable community living is recognized locally (we have been visited by members of sustainability committees of several Colorado towns), and nationwide (CNN’s chief environmental correspondent Bill Weir visited GEOS; CNN will be airing a nationwide broadcast on GEOS, highlighting its features as the model for home construction to achieve decarbonization and healthier interior air quality for residents). In that vein, responsible governments on all levels are preparing and committing to road maps with the goal to rapidly reduce emissions in home construction through elimination of fossil fuels, increased efficiency in appliance/lighting and heating/cooling, as well as the production of on-site renewable energy. In order to have an effective road map, commitments are required which mean nothing less than elimination of fossil fuel use in all new buildings. Consider that the IEA has just issued a special report; this statement stands out: Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director and one of the world’s foremost energy economists, told the Guardian: “If governments are serious about the climate crisis, there can be no new investments in oil, gas and coal, from now – from this year.”

It is 2021, and permitting a developer/builder team the inclusion of natural gas infrastructure for about 250 new homes, based on questionable developer/builder concerns of perceived marketability or economics, thereby locking in emissions for the life of the buildings, subjecting owners to health risks related to gas pollutants and escalating energy costs (not considering future mandated retrofits based on the trajectory of climate induced changes), is not responsible, sets the wrong signal and constitutes a serious setback in rising to the challenges of the climate crisis.

The City of Arvada has the opportunity and responsibility to address the climate crisis, facilitate the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and protect the health of residents from natural gas pollutants. Both can be realized, simply and effectively, through rapid adoption of policies and building codes that support state and nationwide goals in emission reductions. We urge you to demonstrate your commitment to a sustainable future not only through elimination of the fossil fuel infrastructure for the next phase(s) of GEOS, but through a city-wide commitment to net-zero construction, fossil-fuel free construction.

Sent 5/20/2021

Green Home of the Month on Genesee Mountain

Each month we feature a different home from the 2020 Metro Denver Green Homes Tour. This Genesee Mountain home on Chief Hosa Road is owned by Barry Rosenberg and Lee Fisher. It is all-electric—no propane. The architect was Peter Ewers, who specializes in Net Zero Energy homes, and this is one of them. The solar panels (grid-tied) provide all the electricity to heat the home, cook, provide hot water and everything else, including charging their Nissan Leaf. The home has straw bale walls with stucco on the north and east sides of the house. The foundation was poured using Durisol brand ICFs (insulated concrete forms). The well water is purified using UV light. You’ll learn a lot from this home! See my video at www.GreenHomeoftheMonth.com.

Golden Real Estate Wins Sustainability Award

Broker/owner Jim Smith and broker associate David Dlugasch pose with the Golden Sustainability Award in front of their two Teslas.

Back in 2010, Golden Real Estate was awarded the “Sustainability Award for Business” from the City of Golden for the brokerage’s solar-powered office. Eleven years later, we have been awarded this recognition a second time because of how much further we have taken our passion for sustainability.

Back in 2010 we had a 5kW solar array on our roof — enough to power our office, but little else. We had a couple other features — sun tunnels to daylight our office reducing the need for artificial lighting, extra insulation to reduce the amount of natural gas needed to heat the office, and we accepted polystyrene (aka Styrofoam) for recycling.

Now, we have 2 ground-mounted solar arrays adding another 15kW of solar power, providing enough electricity to heat and cool our office with heat pumps and to power our five agent-owned Teslas as well as offering free EV charging to the general public. We had our gas meter removed in 2017 and now our Xcel Energy bill is $10 to $11 per month, which is the cost of being connected to the electric grid. We are now a “net zero energy” facility — and we’re taking two truckloads of Styrofoam to a reprocessing center in Denver every month.

Thanks to “net metering,” the electric grid functions like a battery, receiving our excess energy during sunny days and giving it back to us when we need it. We like to consider our office an example that other businesses can aspire to, and we are grateful for this week’s recognition by Golden. Click on the following 2-minute YouTube video tour of our net zero office:

Lakewood Earth Day 2021 features this video tour of Golden Real Estate’s Net Zero Energy office.

April’s Green Home of the Month

Each month a different home from the Metro Denver Green Homes Tour is featured at www. GreenHomeOfTheMonth.com. This month’s selection is the Larsons’ home on Lookout Mountain. It has no natural gas service. Instead it has radiant floor heating using water heated by the sun and stored in a 10,000-gallon tank. The original section of the home won first place in the original “Solar Decathalon” in 2002. In addition to extensive solar thermal panels and evacuated tubes, the home has 7 kW of solar photovoltaic panels to satisfy the electrical needs of the home. It also has passive solar features and two wood-burning stoves.