Study shows Steamboat Springs’ greenhouse gas emissions decreased while county emissions increased in last decade
Study also predicts upcoming decline
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Greenhouse gas emissions have increased by about 3% in Routt County in the past decade, but emissions within Steamboat Springs city limits have decreased by more than 9%.
Those are some of the key takeaways from the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory, which took a tally of emissions in the county from 2005 to 2018 and identified where those emissions are coming from.
Hillary Dobos, co-owner of Lotus Energy & Sustainability consulting firm that conducted the study, presented the findings during the Routt County Board of Commissioners’ meeting Tuesday and then, again, at a Steamboat Springs City Council meeting later in the day.
The study was a collaborative effort between the county and the city, with the county contributing $5,000 in funding and the city contributing about $27,000, according to City Council documents.
The findings will inform the city and county’s joint Climate Action Plan, one of the most comprehensive local efforts to reduce emissions and establish goals to invest in more renewable fuel sources. The city and county will each contribute $15,000 to develop the plan, according to City Council documents.
As Dobos explained in the introduction of her presentation, emissions of greenhouse gases from human sources have risen sharply in the last century.
“When you get to a certain amount, they actually start catching and not being released into the atmosphere,” Dobos said.
Greenhouse gases have been attributed to rising temperatures and more extreme, erratic weather across the globe.
- Between 2005 and 2018, greenhouse gas emissions in all of Routt County have increased by just over 3%. Within Steamboat Springs city limits, emissions have decreased by 9.4%.
- Stationary energy comprised the largest proportion, 61% of emissions, which includes energy for heating and electricity as well as fugitive emissions, or emissions associated with coal mines, oil and gas wells and leakage from natural gas systems.
- Emissions from transportation, waste, wastewater, agriculture and forestry are expected to increase as a result of future increases in population, tourism and risk of wildfires.
- Overall emissions are projected to decrease 24% by 2050, mostly due to a transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewable electricity.
The phenomenon has had measurable impacts on Colorado, namely in the form of more rain and less snow, Dobos said. Snowpack across the state has been decreasing since the 1950s, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, with losses as much as 60% at some measurement sites.
To combat the issue, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis made it a goal this summer to generate 100% of the state’s energy from carbon-free sources by 2040.
Methodology and trends
Dobos said the purpose of the emissions inventory is not to point fingers at any particular industry or sector but to understand trends and identify methods of decreasing future emissions.
To complete the study, researchers used the Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventories, which Dobos described as the global standard for emission accounting and reporting. It establishes a consistent framework to make findings comparable.
“It allows you to look apples to apples at other cities in the world,” Dobos said.
Stationary energy comprised the largest proportion, 61% of emissions from 2005 to 2018, according to the study, which includes energy for heating and electricity as well as fugitive emissions, or emissions associated with coal mines, oil and gas wells and leakage from natural gas systems.
Emissions from transportation, agriculture, forestry and fossil fuel energy production increased from 2005 to 2018, while emissions from electricity, heating and waste decreased in that time frame, according to the study.
While electricity usage has increased since 2005, emissions from this sector have decreased as a result of more “low-emission,” renewable energy and the phasing out of “high-emission” energy sources like coal and oil, the study found.
Transportation saw the largest increase, accounting for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions in 2018. Dobos attributed this to a rise in population and tourism in Routt County. According to the study, tourism-based spending has increased by 89% since 2004.
In a business-as-usual scenario, Dobos’ firm projects emissions to decrease by almost a quarter of current levels over the next 30 years as the area transitions away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy sources.
Questions from commissioners
Steamboat accounted for 36% of all greenhouse emissions in Routt County, the study found, but the commissioners were skeptical of this proportion. As Commissioner Beth Melton explained, about 50% of people in Routt County live within Steamboat city limits. Steamboat also is a hub for energy-intense industries, such as marijuana grow facilities and manufacturing.
“If it was even, it would make sense to us,” Commissioner Tim Corrigan said of the emissions proportion.
Routt County Environmental Health Director Scott Cowman pointed to major industries outside city limits, such as the mines, Hayden Station and Steamboat Resort, as reasons for the discrepancy.
Suggestions to reduce emissions
Suggested strategies to reduce emissions include transitioning to more renewable energies and increasing the use of electric vehicles, the study said, initiatives the city and county have prioritized.
On Friday, the city announced it received a $200,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs to explore the expansion of solar energy installations. According to a news release, the grant will be used to assess the feasibility of solar installations at sites across Routt County, such as the Howelsen Ice Arena and the wastewater treatment plant. The city will act as the fiscal agent overseeing distribution of the funds, according to the news release.
Routt County has made recent investments in charging stations for electric cars. There are currently nine public charging stations located in the county. The most recent station was installed at Alpine Bank, 1901 Pine Grove Road, in September. There are 25 registered electric vehicles in Routt County, according to Dobos, a number she expects to increase as technology and infrastructure improvements make them more practical for rural areas.
“There are a lot more electric vehicles coming on the market that would be better suited for mountain living,” Dobos said.
Xcel Energy, which operates the Hayden Station power plant, has plans to generate 100% of its energy from renewable sources by 2050. It plans to close the power plant by 2036, one of the reasons Dobos predicts a decline in future emissions for the county.
Public comment at both meetings was unanimously supportive of the county and city’s climate action initiatives. Several younger audience members spoke to the urgency of reducing greenhouse emissions as a way to protect future generations.
Among them was Emi Cooper, a junior at Steamboat Springs High School who has become a local leader in environmental issues, the likes of Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. In September, Cooper organized a county-wide climate strike that culminated with about 100 people, youth and adults alike, gathering on the lawn of the Rout County Courthouse.
“Do we still want to be Ski Town USA in 2050?” Cooper asked City Council. “The answer will be determined by how aggressive our Climate Action Plan will be.”
With the results of the greenhouse gas inventory, the next steps for the joint Climate Action Plan include forming committees to develop policies and strategies, according to Winnie DelliQuadri, the assistant to the city manager. A steering committee will meet privately to determine administrative action, and technical and oversight committees will hold public meetings.
Members of the public pressed the city and county to follow through with their commitments and make tangible improvements when it comes to energy and the environment.
“Listen to these young people,” said Steamboat resident Diane Brower. “They have no future unless we act with every ounce of energy and whatever finances we can put toward it.”
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