Local stakeholders came together for a virtual sustainability town hall Wednesday, June 16, to discuss plans and strategies to reach the county’s goal of greatly reducing carbon emissions in the coming decades.
Summit County Commissioner Josh Blanchard moderated the discussion, and said these conversations should start to shift away from the multidecade drought and toward the long-term effects of climate change from a sustainability standpoint.
“We know Summit County is certainly suffering from the effects of climate change through a variety of different things — drought, wildfire, reduced snowpack, less water runoff.” Blanchard said. “… I can’t think of a single industry in Summit County that doesn’t relate to outdoors.”
Blanchard also highlighted the countywide Climate Action Plan adopted in 2019, which aims to reduce the county’s emissions 50% by 2030 and 80% by 2050.
“Sometimes, we lay these out as goals in the future, but if we don’t start now, then the future is upon us, and so we need to make sure that we are taking action,” Blanchard said. “Real climate action requires that we as a community do things differently than before. … 2030 may seem far away from now, but we really need to be implementing these systematic changes to meet these goals.”
Blanchard then introduced the event’s speakers, including High Country Conservation Center Climate Action Director Jess Hoover, Arapahoe Basin Ski Area Sustainability Manager Mike Nathan, Xcel Energy Area Manager Iffie Jennings and Summit County Sustainability Coordinator Michael Wurzel.
Hoover said 35% of the county’s greenhouse gas emissions comes from commercial energy use, 33% from transportation, 30% from residential energy use and 2% from waste.
She said after the U.S. announced it would pull out of the Paris Climate agreement in 2017, the county wanted to show that it still cared about climate change by creating the Climate Action Plan.
“I talk about climate change a lot — it’s my job to talk about climate change,” ” Hoover said. “But this week, it feels especially relevant given the fact I am sitting in my office, sweating and wishing that maybe our office building had air conditioning, which is kind of crazy in Summit County. We are in the midst of a record breaking heatwave, we’ve already had a handful of wildfires.
“Sometimes people have a hard time visualizing ‘what does climate change look like?’ because in the past it’s been talked about as an out-there, somewhere-else problem. … Well, I’m here to tell you tonight that this what is happening right now, this is climate change in Colorado. This is climate change in the American West. We are experiencing it and it is here.”
Hoover said the U.S. and the European Union recently set the goal of achieving complete carbon neutrality by 2050, so it’s possible the county’s goals could work toward greater reductions than initially planned. She said changing emissions output takes time, so its possible there may not be large changes seen in this year’s greenhouse gas emissions inventory — something the conservation center does every three years.
Hoover also said globally, two-thirds of oil consumption goes toward transportation, and transportation recently became the largest source of emissions in Colorado and the U.S.
Breckenridge and Frisco have already adopted the conservation center’s Electronic Vehicle Readiness Plan, and Hoover said they recently presented it to the county and Dillon. She said they will also present the plan to Silverthorne at the end of July.
She added that Summit County falls into the top 10 communities for electric vehicle adoption nationwide, excluding the robust market in California. The EV Readiness Plan aims to have 10,000 electric vehicles registered in the county by 2030 with at least 420 charging stations.
“This plan is not only good from a climate perspective, but we are preparing as a destination community for a future that is rapidly approaching,” Hoover said.
Xcel Energy also has programs that will incentivize customers to charge their electric vehicles at their homes as a part of the company’s transportation and electrification plan, Jennings said.
Wurzel said the county officially opened its first three zero-emissions Summit Stage buses last year. He said Summit Stage is also designing a new transit administration building/bus barn that will have enough power for a fully electric fleet.
He also said the county has worked to increase its building efficiency, partnering with Xcel Energy to perform energy audits with ideas on how to improve efficiency. The county has added remote controls, LED lighting, solar panels and improved HVAC systems in its facilities.
Wurzel also said the country tracks how much energy its 13 facilities use on a month-to-month basis and makes adjustments based on this as well.
“We’re really taking care to operate our Summit County facilities at an extremely high level, which is really exciting,” Wurzel said.
Jennings said Xcel Energy’s new resource plan aims to reduce 80% of carbon emissions by 2030. She said so far, Xcel has reduced its carbon emissions by 44%, and in 2019 the company saw its largest single year drop in carbon emissions by 10%.
She said the company also recently filed its clean energy plan with the Colorado Utilities Commission this spring, which details the work needed to deliver clean and affordable energy to the Colorado community.
“We look forward to continuing to achieve this through our collective goals,” Jennings said.
Xcel also aims to provide 100% carbon free electricity by 2050, Jennings said. She said the company is relying on emerging technology to close the gap between 2030 and 2050.
“We believe since the technology has moved so quickly over the last few years, that the technology we will need to close that gap will be available at that time, but we continue to do the research for that,” Jennings said.
Jennings also said Xcel aims to reduce its reliability on coal to 4% in 2030, with 16% reliability on natural gas and 80% on renewable energy.
Wurzel said learning about the climate initiatives happening across the Summit community can bring optimism to what can seem like a bleak scenario. He said Summit County has some of the highest emissions per capita in the U.S., and that emissions in the atmosphere hit 419 parts per million – the highest they’ve been in the last four million years.
“We really have a huge moral authority to take on as much climate action as possible,” Wurzel said.