Cleaning the carbon house in Aspen

Solar panels at Aspen’s water treatment plant now provide two-thirds of electricity used in that operation. Photo/Allen Best

Solar panels at Aspen’s water treatment plant now provide two-thirds of electricity used in that operation. Photo/Allen Best

Aspen cleans municipal house on carbon emissions ahead of schedule

City government cuts 30.7%, but not so hot in community

ASPEN, Colo. – Aspen’s city government has cleaned house when it comes to carbon emissions. But can it now curb community emissions?

In 2005, the city adopted a climate-change manifesto called the Canary Initiative, with the declared goal of reducing emissions of greenhouse gases 30 percent by 2020. It has now achieved that, 7 years early, reducing the municipal carbon footprint by 30.7 percent in that eight-year span.

But the other and more difficult prong of this 2020 goal is the community’s, non-governmental emissions. There, emissions have decreased 6 percent compared to the 2004 baseline, which is no better than the United States as a whole. That nationwide reduction was achieved primarily by switching production of electricity from coal to natural gas. (There is some dispute about that perceived savings, however, due to fugitive emissions of methane from drilling operations).

“This is about defining a vision around environmental stewardship and raising our own performance to a higher standard,” explained Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron. “Accomplishing greenhouse gas reduction goals is good for our community’s health and Aspen’s economy, and I’m hopeful, will serve as a workable model for other communities.”

How did Aspen clean house? A press release from the city outlines two primary strategies. One was a sleeves-rolled-up approach to improving energy efficiency. The city engaged in an energy performance contractor. Changes included::

• lighting controls, so that lights go off when a room is vacant;

• programmable thermostats, so the heat goes down at night;

• new, more efficient boilers at City Hall and the Wheeler Opera House and recommissioned air handlers and boilers;

• waste-heat recovery system at the ice rink at Aspen Recreation Center.

These improvements are reflected in a 48 percent reduction in natural gas.

Electrical consumption? Not so good. Consumption actually increased, for reasons that may have had to do with moving into a new building.

Another key part in reducing carbon emissions was a shift to more renewable sources. Solar panels at the water treatment plant provide about two-thirds of the plant’s electricity. And some city buildings are now getting electricity from the city’s own electrical utility, which has varied from 63 to 78 percent from non-carbon sources in recent years.

But a third component of the city’s success was changed human behavior, such as by changing uses in transportation.

The Canary Initiative set a goal of reducing the community’s carbon footprint 80 percent by 2050.


About Allen Best

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.
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One Response to Cleaning the carbon house in Aspen

  1. Sam says:

    Reducing electricity consumption could be done be increasing people’s awareness about saving electricty and show them some few instructions of how they can save energy at their home ,that would not only reduce electricity consumption but also help then save money which are paid on electricity bills.

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