Can Aspen be a `green’ giant? |

Can Aspen be a `green’ giant?

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

What will it take to make Aspen a “green” giant – an environmental leader among municipalities?

City Council members appear to be leaning toward the purchase of the first hybrid diesel-electric bus for Aspen’s in-town fleet as its next environmentally bodacious undertaking.

Newly elected Councilman Torre stumped for Aspen to become an environmental role model, with city government leading the charge, during his campaign last spring. Last week, council members and city staffers debated what green-minded moves would give the city the best bang for the buck.

Replacing the electric heat in City Hall with a renewable energy source, such as a solar hot water system, would be a huge step, suggested Lee Cassin, the city’s environmental health director.

“I think that would be a tremendous home run,” she said. “That’s one that’s measurable. We know exactly how much energy we use in City Hall each year. We know how much carbon dioxide we put in the air.”

Or, the city could avoid messing with the heating system in the 100-plus-year-old building and spend that $200,000 or $300,000 on the purchase of additional wind power, which might be more effective in reducing the green-house gas emissions blamed for global warming, noted Councilwoman Rachel Richards.

For an extra $200,000, the city could buy a hybrid bus rather than a standard diesel bus, Councilman Tim Semrau added. One of the alternative-fuel buses ran briefly between Aspen and Glenwood Springs last year as a demonstration project. The bus reduces diesel emissions by up to 90 percent and increases fuel efficiency by an estimated 60 percent. It’s also far less noisy to operate.

Semrau urged the city to work the purchase of one of the buses into its 2004 budget.

“To me, that’s the biggest thing we can do. To me, this is the number one priority,” he said.

While buying additional wind power with the money might be more environmentally effective, putting the hybrid bus on local routes is the “sexy” option – one people will notice, Semrau argued.

Most tourists and local residents won’t realize the bus is different, unless the city paints a big sign on it, Richards countered.

“How many of our consumers of electricity are aware that half their power is coming from wind [and hydroelectric] power?” she said.

“There are a lot of things that I think the community doesn’t realize we’re doing,” agreed Mayor Helen Klanderud.

The city gets 57 percent of its electricity from wind power or hydroelectric sources. Wind energy fulfills about 7 percent of the total demand for power from the city’s electric utility, but customers aren’t charged extra for the “green power” source.

The city could look at a surcharge on its electric or water rates to encourage conservation, said City Manager Steve Barwick. When water rates for excessive use were instituted during last year’s drought, overall water consumption went down, he noted.

Raising rates, however, is probably among the more controversial approaches the council could take, Barwick warned.

Excess water revenues could be channeled to water-conservation efforts by residents; an electric utility surcharge could go to the purchase of more wind power, he said.

“I’d look at it – a surcharge to buy more wind power,” Richards said.

“I could look at that,” Semrau agreed.

Torre urged the city to explore ways to ratchet up the community’s recycling efforts, but Klanderud said she’d like to know how much of what is deposited at the recycling center now is successfully recycled.

Staffers were directed to analyze other green steps the city might take to expand on what it has already done: switched to 100 percent recycled paper for its copiers (some 1 million pieces of paper a year); installed low-flow toilets at City Hall; started experimenting with cleaner bio-diesel fuel in the Parks Department; and purchased hybrid electric vehicles used by employees traveling to out-of-town meetings, among other things.

Ideas for future green improvements include installing a dishwasher at City Hall to reduce use of disposable dishes and utensils at meetings, initiating a citywide composting program and expanding on its use of solar-powered trail lights and parking meters.

Getting the word out about Aspen’s successful environmental efforts, spurring other communities to emulate them, may be among the most effective steps Aspen can take, Barwick concluded.

Chief among Aspen’s successes, he noted, is its Renewable Energy Mitigation Program, which exacts a fee for big energy users – such as outdoor, heated pools and snowmelt driveways – and funds renewable-energy projects with the revenues.

Since the city/county REMP was passed in 2000, it has funded 24 projects that will keep 42 million pounds of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere in the next 10 years, according to estimates.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is]

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