E-bus

The city of Aspen will have its first check-in toward climate reduction goals this year. The communitywide goal is to reduce reliance on greenhouse gases 30 percent from the 2004 baseline. Government programs that include the utilization of electric buses have taken the lead in the effort to fight climate change.

Aspen Mayor Torre was a member of the city council in 2004 when the city first set its sights on ambitious long-range energy reduction goals. The Aspen Climate Action Plan calls for an 80 percent reduction by 2050.

Now, 16 years later, the community and Torre, who is serving his first mayoral term, will conduct the first check-in on its progress.

“Here we are,” Torre said. “We are working toward a 30 percent reduction communitywide by the end of 2020.”

While Torre is confident the goal can be reached, he is calling on all residents to help in crossing the finish line. In 2017 — the most recent count of citywide energy use — Aspen was down 21 percent from the 2004 numbers.

“I’m just asking the community to take their part in helping the entire city. This is an entire community goal, we gotta shut the door on the last 8 percent,” Torre said.

The climate action goals were made before iPhones and the many gadgets that have followed in the years since. But Torre said Aspen’s 100 percent renewable electric grid helps offset energy usage, even as the world becomes increasingly charged in order to stay connected.

“If your electric source is renewable, then your coal draw is down and your actual carbon footprint is different,” Torre said. “There are ways for us to become more intensive yet more efficient at the same time. That’s really the challenge of the world because there are so many people in the world.”

He asks residents to consider actions they can take on a personal level, so that by the time of the end-of-the-year counts, the overall community consumption is reduced. He lists composting, lowering home thermostats, raising refrigerator temperatures and using public transportation as ways that individuals can make a difference. 

He said he’s seen engagement on individual actions waning since the initiative began. 

“There used to be such a turn-the-light-off campaign in the entire country. There was a real energy conservation movement that happened years ago. You’d be surprised these days how many people are leaving things plugged in, leaving things turned on,” Torre said.

The energy-consumption inventory measures six gases that contribute to climate change. They are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride. The metrics are divided between residential and commercial use, and also sort out pollutants divided between vehicle use, aviation, landfill and wastewater.

While commercial consumption and vehicle use have gone down dramatically since the initial benchmark, residential use has grown, as has the airport’s contribution to greenhouse gases. 

Along with providing a number of incentives for individuals and businesses to reduce their reliance on carbon, the city of Aspen also has been changing its own programs to help contribute to overall community reduction of energy use.

“I was really excited about the fact that the city has been doing so many wonderful internal moves,” Torre said.

In an informational memo to council, the city’s climate action manager, Ashley Perl, said it is important for the city to walk the talk when it comes to changing habits. 

“The city of Aspen has a responsibility to lead by example through reducing the impact of its government operations. This work includes a focus on energy reduction in city buildings, recycling and composting in all offices, reducing and offsetting the impact from employee travel and commuting, and increasing the efficiency of the city’s fleet,” Perl said.

When staff travels for work, certain departments use Good Traveler, a program managed by the Rocky Mountain Institute to offset those trips. The city is converting to purchasing electric cars for its government vehicles, and has given money to ensure that public transportation such as the Downtowner and city buses are electric. The city also has installed several charging stations for all residents with electric vehicles to use, and is considering adding more downtown.

Perl and her department are working on an incentive program for businesses to take it upon themselves to upgrade their electric systems to be more eco-friendly. The program, called Building IQ, will be presented to council this spring. Perl said specifics are still being worked out but overtime regulations will likely become more restrictive in order to encourage green buildings.

“[Incentives] could include things like free technical assistance or access to additional funding,” Perl said. “There could be penalties for noncompliance, which would be consistent with penalties for non-compliance with other parts of the city code.”

The city also is turning to its affordable-housing stock to help reduce overall community energy consumption. A retrofit of energy efficient systems in Truscott and seasonal housing at Burlingame and Marolt have alone realized a 17 percent reduction and saved the city $32,000 in utility bills.

Torre points out that cost savings can be realized on the individual level as well. So for no other reason than finances, people can see the result of their behavioral changes. He said examining actions on an individual level allow for the overwhelming battle against climate change to feel more achievable.

“It’s interesting how the conversation about this goes. One of the things that I am trying to do is trying to talk less about climate change and talk more about local environmentalism,” Torre said. “That's a super daunting task to put on one individual, to say ‘the fate of the world rests on you.’ I’m advocating for the local focus on this, knowing that it is good for the entire planet.”

Alycin Bektesh is a reporter for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at Alycin@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @alycinwonder.