Archive for April, 2008


Sunflower Farmers Market
Originally uploaded by JerryLewis

It may be curiosity of a new grocer in town, or some of the special opening prices, but Boulderites have been checking out the new Sunflower Farmers Market en masse.

The smaller but well-designed store, located near McGuckin’s Hardware in the Village Shopping Center, looks to be a real hit. As one friend said, making a comparison to Whole Foods, “I filled up and entire bag of groceries and it was only $25.”

Looks like Whole Paycheck has a real competitor now in Boulder. Since Whole Foods purchased Wild Oats, Boulder has been anxious to have their own Sunflower Markets store. This is the fifth Sunflower to open in Colorado, and it joins a growing chain with stores in Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico.

Founder and CEO Mike Gilliland, who founded Wild Oats with Libby
Cook in 1987, was right on the floor, arranging some products in his
Sunflower Markets shirt when I stopped in on a Friday. Always good to see the top guy seeing how the new store is doing, and no doubt, boosting the spirits of co-workers.

Prices at the Boulder store do seem very competitive. I’ll be back for the $6 a pound coffee if that price sticks. There were some very good deals as well on both regular and organic produce.

Everyone wondered how the parking situation would be in the already tight Village center, but so far, so good it appears. After all, an insanely packed parking lot at Whole Foods never seems to keep those loyal shoppers away.

The influx of shoppers has to be delighting other nearby retailers and restaurants like Alba and Le Peep.

If I had to guess who might feel the competitive pinch the most, I would have to guess the Safeway located just across the street on Arapahoe. That store, like other Safeways, was recently remodeled to add a very large natural foods and organic products section. Now they have an upstart competitor, with some very good marketing know-how, right in their neighborhood.

Meanwhile, the huge empty site where Wild Oats had planned on opening its “store of the future” at Boulder’s 29th Street shopping area remains empty, although shopping center owner Macerich has hinted it will soon announce a new tenant. Whole Foods, which is expanding its own Boulder store, decided not to go with the large Oats facility after its merger.

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If you live in Boulder, you’re going to have the choice to have entirely new technology running in your home. If you learn how to manage it correctly, you might cut the price of your utility bill.

Or could you end up paying more?

When was the last time you got new technology for free? Your Internet connection, for example, added to your monthly bills. So did your cell phone. All things you use everyday, but you do pay for them.

Just how Xcel pays for the $100 million investment to make Boulder the nation’s first “Smart-Grid” city is still a bit hazy. Putting a “smart” meter on your home sounds like a way to help the environment, and Boulder officials tout the new technologies as another tool in their Climate Action plan.

In all the excitement, the subject of “pricing” really hasn’t come up much yet. But the Smart Grid also may open up the idea of “dynamic” or “time of day” pricing. In 2005, Xcel began charging seasonal prices, with higher rates in the summer. When I asked Xcel spokesman Tom Henley if some type of higher rates for “peak” hours vs. lower costs for “off-peak,” he said it’s “one of the possibilities.”

Getting “real-time feedback” on the price of that power and if renewable sources are available is what the Smart Grid can offer, explains Jonathan Koehn, Boulder’s environmental affairs manager. “Absolutely it is possible to lower your utility bill” by making more “conscious decisions” on how you use power to run, heat and cool your house.

Although the program is voluntary, Koehn expects smart meter installation to be pretty aggressive. Xcel says 25,000 meters could be installed by August, with 50,000 in place.

If the Smart Grid succeeds in Boulder, a rollout to customers around Colorado could be next. Xcel serves eight states, so the Boulder test is important.

Xcel will pay about 15 percent of the Smart Grid’s cost, spokesman Henley confirmed. Its partners – Accenture, Current Group, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories and Ventyx — also will put in funding. Grants and private funding are possible because although smart meters aren’t that new, with utilities in New York and California using them, the industry will watch the scale of converting an entire city.

“This is R&D at this point,” Henley says. “We hope to go in and prove out the value.” If customer savings can be proved, Henley adds, they might take their case to the Pubic Utilities Commission to try and recover funds.

That’s especially when one person, Jim Greenwood, director of the Office of Consumer Counsel for Colorado, will be watching closely. “Our concern,” he says, “is about consumers.”

“It’s a delicate balancing act” in programs like this, he says, and there are always “participants” and “non-participants.” Some unable to reap benefits from new technology could be “the ones who can least afford” new energy-efficient appliances or home improvements.

So what might Boulderites expect as they start using this in-home “black box” to monitor energy use?
It’s clear both Xcel, as well as the customer, will be tracking the results. Experts say the “peak” time energy is consumed is usually from about 4 p.m. into later in the evening, when people return from work, start cooking, washing dishes, watching TV, etc.

Under discussion by utilities across the U.S. is “Time of Day” pricing, or TOD. Ed Legge, spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute, an association of shareholder-owned electric companies, says there can be “political ramifications” toward TOD rates, especially with commercial customers since businesses can’t always shut down machinery to avoid peak hours.

Legge says utilities are moving toward what’s called “dynamic” pricing, where utilities send a signal to “smart” thermostats or appliances and to customers telling them they are in a higher-priced period.
For customers who have the technology to run their dishwasher or do their laundry when rates are cheaper, this might be a good thing.

But what happens to those, maybe a married couple who both work, who don’t avoid the peak hours? Will they pay more?

Boulder’s Smart Grid is much more than shifting energy use. It will modernize what Koehn calls a “fairly antiquated” grid. Customer service and reliability should improve, particularly during outages. As residents add solar, wind and plug-in electric car, the digital Smart Grid might reduce the need for another coal-burning plant.

Boulderites are Internet savvy, plugged in and early adapters of new technologies. Xcel made a natural choice by picking the city. But if it costs $100 million for a Smart-Grid city of 100,000, how much does it cost to wire a city like Denver, a city five times the size?

These are questions that eventually Xcel will need to answer. And as usual, you the consumer must ask, “What will all of this cost me?”

Jerry W. Lewis is also a contributing columnist for Boulder County Business Report. Reach him by e-mail at jwlboulder@comcast.net.

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Apr
17

Department of Having a Good Time

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Department of Having a Good Time
Originally uploaded by JerryLewis

I chatted briefly with the guy who had this sticker on his truck near his trailer in Los Barriles on East Cape of Baja. He said he was from Georgia and kept seeing “official” trucks with different wildlife, etc. department names on them. He figured he would create his own agency…..Read below for more Baja news.

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Apr
17

Baja fishing at sunrise

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Fishing at sunrise
Originally uploaded by JerryLewis

Sport fishing cruiser heads out from Los Barriles on the East Cape of Baja. We had some great fishing here and in La Paz, with striped marlin and dorado around right now in mid April. Read below about how new developments are starting to change the face of La Paz.

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Apr
17

More development changing Baja landscape

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After years of visiting La Paz, the 471-year-old capital city of southern Baja, it’s clear that the Mexico city is finally attracting the attention of numerous developers.

The fishing remains some of the best in the world, the weather in April was nearly perfect — 90s in the day, cooler evenings and although the flight down is packed with American tourists, almost all are heading to the resorts of Cabo San Lucas. Few still take the drive up the East Cape and over the mountains to La Paz, a city of about 250,000 and a center of commerce for the Baja.

While a few condo projects such as La Concha Pearl have been marketed for several years, La Paz has escaped the onslaught of large hotel, condo and golf course projects. As a result, the city has been much more affordable, attracting more Mexican visitors than gringos.

Condos

But big changes are in the wind.

A new project, Playa del La Paz, is planned as a high-end luxury development, with 60 condos being offered, starting at about $700,000. Even more amazing, we discovered numerous “private property” signs poking out of the desert on the drive out to Tecolote Beach, where you can depart for panga rides or kayak trips out to the environmental sensitive Espiritu Santo Island. A new project, Maravia Country Club Estates, including an 18-hole golf course, is being advertised there.

Espiritu Santo is a biological wonderland, where new species are still being discovered. Fortunately, after years of debate, the island has been protected by the Mexican government. But the prospect of new development and a golf course just across the narrow strait between the island and the peninsula is worrisome.

The 23,383-acre island in the Sea of Cortez is one of the most biologically diverse marine areas in the world and holds both tropical forests and coral reefs, the two richest ecosystems and the two most threatened by climate change, according to IPS News.

The waters around the island also are home to resident colonies of sea lion — where visitors are allowed to snorkle right in their midst — and 500 species of fish. Work to continue to protect the island is under way by the Nature Conservancy.

I’ll be getting back to the Baja as soon as I can, since I discover something new every time I visit. Despite much hotter days, the fishing only gets better through the summer months. On this trip we even let the guides know we did not want to catch any more of the large striped marlin, all caught and released, choosing instead to fish for more Dorado, and bringing in nice filets each night to eat fresh at different restaurants.

I’ve written about my Baja trips in the past, but now it looks like the secret of the appeal of La Paz is really starting to get out.

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