Three inefficient boilers at the Pitkin County Library have sparked a broader conversation about what it would cost to electrify all of the county’s facilities.
On Tuesday, the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners got a small taste of the significant price tag associated with swapping out natural gas boilers for entirely electric ones.
According to estimates presented by Pitkin County Climate Action Manager Zachary Hendrix, an electric boiler system at the library would cost $2.2 million to operate over the next 25 years.
Its natural gas competitor would bill just north of $600,000 over the next quarter of a century.
The library’s current boiler system was installed over a decade ago and not only heats the facility’s interior but also melts snow around its entire perimeter.
“It wasn’t designed for altitude, so it’s actually been running below capacity,” Hendrix said of the library’s current boiler system that was installed over a decade ago. “That’s why it needs to be replaced and why it has such high repair costs.”
After instructing staff to proceed with the installation of a new, natural gas boiler system on Tuesday, commissioners reversed course just one day later.
“I woke up about 3 o’clock this morning thinking about the boiler discussion at the library and our climate action plans,” Commissioner Greg Poschman said during Wednesday’s regular BOCC meeting.
Pitkin County has pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by “90% from 2020 levels by 2050,” according to its declaration of a climate emergency.
Commissioners were comfortable funding the estimated $15,000 to $20,000 worth of inevitable repairs to the library’s inefficient boiler system over the next several months.
Based upon Hendrix’s calculations, an entirely natural gas boiler system at the library would reduce Pitkin County’s emissions by 607 tons of CO2 equivalent over the next 25 years.
An electric boiler system would reduce them by 2,663 tons of CO2 equivalent over the next quarter of a century.
Numbers like that persuaded the BOCC to temporarily hold off on replacing the library’s boiler system as staff worked on a capital plan, examining the cost of electrifying all of the county’s facilities.
“I’ll call up some of the data that shows that it’s possible that in 2100 Colorado won’t have snow and I’d like my children to be able to ski in their hometown,” Board Chair Kelly McNicholas Kury said during a second reading of Pitkin County’s climate change declaration Wednesday.
During Tuesday’s work session, Poschman said the public’s expectation that city streets, neighbor sidewalks and everything be “completely devoid of snow and ice” had a negative impact on the environment.
“If you look at old pictures of Aspen in the day and you talk to the old, old-timers, they’d talk about the days when the streets weren’t plowed and the sidewalks weren’t groomed for every drop of snow,” Poschman said Tuesday. “They look at it nostalgically, and I’m one of them.”
Although Poschman’s sentiments were generally supported by his colleagues on the BOCC, Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock cautioned commissioners against the liabilities associated with less snow and ice removal and recommended a broader conversation for another day.
“I would be much happier paying some 16-year-old kid to shovel the walkways than pay the gas company to do it,” Commissioner Francie Jacober said.