City Council FYI: Routt County’s steps towards emissions reductions |

City Council FYI: Routt County’s steps towards emissions reductions

Sonja Macys
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Sonja Macys

Roughly 10 years ago, the city of Steamboat Springs and Routt County partnered on the county’s first Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory. The inventory documented 2005 greenhouse gas emissions and set a baseline. It also proposed policy and action steps that could be incorporated into a Climate Action Plan.

We learned that 56% of Routt County’s greenhouse gas emissions came from the built environment — 87% electricity — and 17% from transportation — 76% gas. It was clear to me that we could do better in emissions reduction by creating real, long-term, financial savings for the taxpayer simply by focusing on city operations. I asked for the electric bill. 

At that time, the city’s annual cost for electricity was around $800,000 per year, as it is today. At present, we are Yampa Valley Electric Association’s fifth largest account. What if we could offset costs and reduce emissions by installing solar arrays at city-owned facilities like the wastewater treatment plant?

Back then, the idea was not met with enthusiasm. At a recent conference, the CEO of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association noted that renewable energy has become more cost effective than traditional forms of energy. Municipalities from across the county are taking a second look. 

The city was recently awarded a Colorado Department of Local Affairs grant to partner with municipalities and the county in planning for large scale solar. Energy use, emissions and the long-term, economic benefit of investing in renewable energy are top of mind.

The timing couldn’t be better. At a recent Mountain Towns 2030 Conference, I heard from Republicans and Democrats at the federal level, “The cavalry is not coming. The federal government is not there for you on climate action. You are going to have to do it yourselves and lead us.” Opportunity knocks. Colorado municipalities love local control.

So, what are we going to do? Tuesday, Nov. 19, updated greenhouse gas inventory results will be discussed. We’ll look at where we stand on emissions using 2018 data and discuss how that compares to 2005.

Spoiler alert: While the quantity of greenhouse gas emissions has changed, the source of their production remains largely the same. The built environment and transportation continue to be our greatest opportunities for emissions reduction. Electric use and gasoline are prime targets. Beneficial electrification will surely be up for discussion. 

Mountain communities are investing heavily in electrification of their fleets. Electric buses have taken hold in Breckenridge. We’ll have one here for a test run during our busiest week of spring break. Ride it, see what you think. Electric vehicles are quiet, quick and direct emissions free. They do have life-cycle emissions, of course, just like any new vehicle.

Municipalities are partnering with their rural electric cooperatives on electric vehicles. The mayor of Crested Butte arrived at MT 2030 in an electric vehicle loaned to him by the Gunnison Valley Rural Electric Association. New electric vehicle charging stations are coming online. The city recently received funding to enhance charging opportunities in the electric vehicle corridor, reducing range anxiety for electric vehicle owners. 

Naysayers joke that electric vehicles are fueled by coal-fired, power plants. But they don’t have to be. We owe a debt of gratitude to the people who have worked the coal mines and power plants for keeping the lights on for us for so long. But consumer preference, the regulatory environment and simple economics have changed the way our primary electricity provider, Xcel, is supplying us electricity through YVEA.

The imminent shutdown of the Hayden Station and downscaling of the Craig Station will increase the amount of energy that comes to us from renewable sources. To assist these communities, the governor’s office is hiring a coal transition program director who will provide guidance to the Just Transition from Coal Advisory Council, on which our own Routt County Commissioner Beth Melton sits.

The issues of emissions, energy and economy are complex. They are becoming less politically charged and more about doing what makes sense for people to inhabit our ever-changing planet. Join Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday, Nov. 19, to learn more.    

Sonja Macys is the District III representative on the Steamboat Springs City Council.

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