Hallam street

Bikers in August take advantage of a new dedicated bike and pedestrian way on Hallam Street through Aspen’s West End in this file photo. Cutting emissions from the transportation sector is a key strategy in the community’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Upvalley communities have made progress in cutting carbon emissions in recent years, but meeting established reduction targets set for 2020 and beyond will require a “doubling down on building efficiency,” according to a city of Aspen official.

Aspen, Pitkin County, Snowmass Village and Basalt have all recently released carbon emissions inventories for 2017. The data show that since 2014, Aspen has cut emissions by 11 percent, with 305,319 metric tons of carbon emitted that are attributable to the community’s building, transportation and waste sectors. Aspen has been tracking its emissions since 2004 and in that time has seen them decrease 20 percent. 

When the city began tracking emissions in 2004 under the Canary Initiative program, it set a goal of cutting 30 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050 — targets that were seen as in line with the global effort needed to prevent warming above 2 degrees Celsius.

Pitkin County began tracking emissions for unincorporated portions in 2014 and since that time, emissions are down 4 percent to 240,215 metric tons, according to a report put together by CORE.

Snowmass Village’s emissions are down 12 percent since 2014 to 108,840 metric tons and the commits have reduced total emissions 17 percent since 2009, putting it on track to meet its 2020 goal of 20 percent reduction.

Basalt has cut emissions 2 percent, to 53,907 metric tons, since 2014.

A press release issued Monday by CORE highlighting the regional efforts on energy efficiency and emissions reductions notes that the cuts are all the more impressive considering that, in the time periods measured, population and economic activity in the upper valley have expanded.

“Aspen’s innovative approach to emissions reductions, which includes moving the municipal-owned electric utility to 100% renewable energy, investing in projects and programs to increase community-wide building energy efficiency, and decreasing emissions from the on-road transportation sector through improved public transit systems, have in large part driven these emissions reductions and have established the city as a leader in sustainability,” says the conclusion section of the city’s 2017 inventory report.

For Chris Menges and Ashley Perl, the city’s sustainability programs administrator and climate action manager, respectively, the 2017 results show that there is still much work to be done if the community is to hit its emissions reductions targets.

Most of Aspen’s reductions are attributable to getting more renewable energy in the portfolios of electric utilities, Menges said. Since 2015, the city’s municipal utility has been 100 percent renewable. Holy Cross Energy, which provides electricity to the rest of the valley outside central Aspen, is now close to 40 percent renewable, up from the teens not so long ago.

The progress has mostly come on the supply side, Menges said. More work needs to be done on demand in order to meet the goals, he said.

Upper valley wide, 63 percent of emissions come from residential and commercial buildings. Transportation — on the ground and in the air — is the next largest share of the pie, followed by landfill waste.

“Doubling down” on building efficiency and encouraging the electrification of buildings — so that renewably-produced electricity, not carbon-based propane or natural gas is used as a heat source — are seen as the keys to “unlocking deep carbon reduction,” Menges said.

Electrifying buildings is a long-term goal that will take decades, according to Perl, but all-electric homes and commercial buildings are starting to come online locally. The new city offices building at Rio Grande Park will not have a natural gas input.

Greening the transportation sector with more energy efficient and electric cars is another pillar of the overall reduction strategy, as is reducing landfill waste. Menges noted that food waste and construction and demolition waste are the largest sources of landfill-based emissions and Aspen has plenty of opportunity to reduce both.

To pursue the building demand side of the equation, the city is implementing a new initiative known as Building IQ that will require energy use benchmarking. There is a general lack of data across the community concerning how buildings are using energy and where reductions can be achieved, Perl said. Getting a better handle on that data is the next step, she said.

The four up valley governments have been working together with CORE since at least 2016, in recognition that regional efforts will be the most successful in meeting goals, Menges said. Supporting Holy Cross Energy, for example, in its goal to go 70 percent renewable by 2030 would be a major step that would help everyone make progress. Holy Cross has reported that it is on track to meet that goal early, Menges noted.

Editor's note: A prior version of this story misstated the amount of renewable energy in Holy Cross Energy's portfolio. The figure has been updated.

Curtis Wackerle is the editor of Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at curtis@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @CurtisWackerle.