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Aspen at 100 percent renewable energy
Photo courtesy: Rachel Chaparro

By James Mejía

In 2015, Aspen became only the third city in the United States to achieve the use of 100 percent renewable sources for its energy needs. Since then, a steady trickle of cities committed to the lofty energy goal. However, when President Trump announced in June, his plans to pull out of the Paris Agreement regulating global pollution levels, the environmental conversation has shifted to the local level with more cities taking the initiative to be increasingly energy efficient. In March of this year, 25 U.S. cities signed the 100 percent renewable commitment and by August, that number grew to 40.

The ski town has used energy generated from hydroelectricity for decades. Now, instead of generating their own renewable energy, most is produced and purchased from out of state. Following Aspen’s lead, several other well-known ski areas across the country have jumped in to the race for environmental superiority.

Jodie Van Horn directs the ‘Ready for 100’ program at the Sierra Club, promoting cities’ conversion to complete renewable sources for energy. In a prepared statement, she recognized Aspen’s leadership on the issue when Park City, Utah and others joined the effort, “From the Wasatch Range to the Appalachian Mountains, winter tourism plays a vital role in the economy, the culture, and the way of life of communities across the country. Yet as snowpacks recede and droughts persist, many of these places are feeling the pinch as the threats of climate change hit home.” Van Horn continued, “… Park City joins a growing list of ski communities across the country, from Salt Lake City to Aspen and Burlington, that are taking charge to confront this threat by transitioning to 100 percent clean and renewable energy.” The Sierra Club’s ‘Ready for 100’ program wants to help 100 U.S. cities convert to 100 percent renewable energy.

Through a Sierra Club press release, Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron said, “The city set a goal to reach 100 percent renewable by 2015. It’s through a lot of hard work, strong leadership, a commitment to a long-term goal, and having a vision that allowed us to get here.”

Denver native and Aspen property owner, Stephanie Garcia, wasn’t aware of Aspen’s use of 100 percent renewables but is appreciative of their environmental leadership. “I knew renewable energy use was a target. I thought it was more of an aspirational goal, but knew they were doing a lot to head in that direction.” She purchased her vintage half duplex property in 2011 in Aspen’s West End. Since transitioning from traditional utility energy sources to 100 percent renewable, Garcia hasn’t noticed any change in utility bills, “Except how low they are compared to Denver.”

Garcia appreciates the environmental trend in Aspen, “The city has a large tax base to make investments with a long-term eye as opposed to quick fixes. I haven’t experienced an increase in the cost of living here, but have experienced an enhanced quality of life. I think most people would sign up for that all day long.”

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) reports that Aspen stated their 100 percent renewable goal back in 2004 and by 2014 the city was sourcing 75 percent of their energy needs through renewable sources. That’s when the city reached out to NREL for helping define how to both decrease energy demand and increase renewable sources. By August 2015, Aspen met their 100 percent renewable goal with 53 percent coming from wind energy, 46 percent from hydroelectricity and 1 percent landfill gas.

Business owner and Woody Creek resident, Mindy Nagle echoes expectations that Aspen would be taking the lead on environmental measures, “This is exactly what Aspen would do. The road toward using renewables has been a long time coming. There has been a step wise approach starting with public entities and now we need private companies and second home owners to be more involved in the effort.”

Nagle hasn’t noticed any increase in utility costs due to the use of renewables, “Not a bit.” In fact, Aspen utility costs remain among the lowest in Colorado. Nagle says the shift to renewables has been gradual, pointing to other environmental accomplishments in the city like the Aspen Ski Company leading the way as an early adopter of renewables and recycling, the hospital achieving LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification and managing waste and composting in their cafeteria. Nagle continues, “From the ski company to the city, the county and the hospital, all the big players are joining forces.”

As the Aspen Valley’s ob-gyn at All Valley Women’s Care, Nagle’s practice pursues environmental goals including the examination and reclassification of rubbish. “By using proper disposal for safe medical waste, we save 4-5 steps in our landfill management, making it common waste instead of much more expensive red-bagged waste.”

Nagle’s partner, Cheryl Sovich runs Aspen landscaping firm, The Runaway Shovel. She admits to using substantial levels of gasoline for her gardening vehicles but is careful to comply with new city rules like the prohibition of gas powered leaf blowers. Though not directly affected by renewable energy costs, Sovich has been hit by increased dump costs, spending between $2,000 and $7,000 a month. She looks forward to receiving the compost that is supposed to come from the dump’s flora waste. Sovich is doing her part, “We don’t spray for bugs and we are going more organic every year.”

Approximately one year after Aspen reached their renewable goals, Boulder made the commitment to becoming wholly reliant on renewables by 2030, the 17th U.S. city to make the pledge. In February of 2017, Pueblo became the third Colorado city joining the pledge to make the transition (by 2035). Part of Pueblo’s effort includes the possibility of creating a city-owned utility company to have more control over their energy sources. In August, Boulder neighbor Nederland pledged 100 percent renewables by 2025, Colorado’s fourth pledged city.

Current gubernatorial candidates State Senator, Mike Johnston and U.S. Congressman, Jared Polis are getting in the act. Both have pledged 100 percent renewable energy sources by 2040 if elected. That would be a substantial increase from the current 30 percent state requirement.





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