Despite initiative, city hearth warming the Earth |

Despite initiative, city hearth warming the Earth

Abigail Eagye
The gas hearth in downtown Aspen can potentially use as much energy as one-fifth the output of City Hall, where the Canary Initiative was born. (Mark Fox/The Aspen Times)

In the middle of Aspen’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, at least one of the city’s projects to encourage “dwell time” on the mall may be construed as a step in the wrong direction.Take, for instance, the fire hearth the city installed on the mall in April. It can put out as much greenhouse gas as one-fifth of City Hall.Before Aspen approved the Canary Initiative, the City Council commissioned Front Range consultants Henry Beer and Ford Frick to offer guidelines on how to increase vitality in the downtown area. In response to the report, the city approved the community fire hearth, as well as a special events kiosk and a guest services pavilion for the mall.

The hearth hasn’t really been in use since being installed. But Scott Chism, parks department planner and project manager, provided estimates for fuel cost and consumption (the hearth runs on natural gas and electricity) based on year-round use, anyway.Assuming the hearth were to run 10 hours a day for 151 winter days and four hours a day for 214 summer days, the total annual cost could be $6,168, and total greenhouse gas emissions could be roughly 70,080 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per year. By comparison, Aspen City Hall in 2004 emitted 374,000 pounds of carbon dioxide, and a 3,500-square-foot North 40 home put out 42,600 pounds.Chism cautioned that the hearth numbers are only estimates, and the city has yet to decide how much to run it.”Until the city starts to utilize the hearth, a 100 percent accurate calculation of energy usage and associated cost cannot be fully established,” he said.Chism estimated the annual cost of the hearth if it remained off in October, November, April and May to be $4,437.

Although the hearth has the potential to put out a fair amount of greenhouse gases, it was approved before Aspen’s Canary Initiative. And “it was felt that the overall benefit to town was worth it,” said Dan Richardson, the city’s global warming project manager.According to Chism, the hearth, as part of the city’s dwell time master plan, was seen as a way to help people mingle when it was cold outside in that downtown area.Warm summer temperatures and busy outdoor events have kept the mall packed without having to run the hearth yet, Chism said. As a result, making plans for how often to run the hearth hasn’t been a priority.Because the city parks department operates the malls, the hearth counts against that department in its effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1 percent each year. That doesn’t mean the city will have to do away with the hearth, just that the parks department will have to offset the extra emissions by reducing further elsewhere. It could buy mitigation credits or by trade credits with another city department (see related story).

“The parks department has actually been quite proactive and has assigned the task [of monitoring greenhouse gas emissions] to a park employee,” Richardson said.The department has made efforts to reduce emissions by replacing vehicles in its fleet with three hybrids and one flex-fuel truck, by turning off hot water in the shop for nine months of the year, adding motion sensors to vending machines (whose light bulbs have been removed to reduce light use) so they run only when people are present and adding timers to control “phantom power sources,” such as appliances with digital readouts.The department is also looking at a similar shutoff system for computer monitors, as well as an on-demand water-heating system to replace large-tank water heaters at parks and golf facilities.For now, as long as the weather is warm, the city may elect to leave the hearth off. Chism said that doesn’t mean the hearth is not a plus for visitors to the mall. Right now, they’re using it for shade.Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is