Mitzi Rapkin: Guest opinion |

Mitzi Rapkin: Guest opinion

Mitzi Rapkin
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

The city of Aspen as a government and a municipal utility provider is leading the nation with its efforts to promote energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions. To say otherwise would be disingenuous.

Aspen Electric is working toward a 100 percent renewable energy portfolio by 2020. Today, 75 percent of the utility’s power comes from renewable wind and hydro sources. The city is working diligently to convert the last 25 percent. This will be the most challenging percentage to achieve because much of the low-hanging fruit has been picked.

It will take an even greater commitment to additional efficiency measures to reduce power needs as well as increases in renewable sources and technology. This is not a matter of “either/or” but one of pursuing all means possible.

No method of clean carbon-neutral energy production will be overlooked. Thus far, the city has taken broad, measurable actions to reduce its footprint on the planet, supporting the bold vision it takes to achieve such successes.

As clean as wind is, it’s not yet reliable and consistent enough to provide Aspen’s base load power and with an approximate 25-year lifespan, we can’t ignore the fact that wind turbines have longevity issues. Therefore, it would be irresponsible to put too much wind in an energy portfolio. Aspen Electric does, however, have more wind as a percentage of its energy portfolio than any other utility in the nation. This has been true since 2008, when the city was acknowledged by the U.S. EPA for this distinction.

Hydro power infrastructure, which the city already utilizes, has a 75- to100-year life, and systems often pay for themselves long before the end of their useful life. That’s why the city has and will continue to pursue environmentally sound hydro power.

The city is also committed to walking its talk by tracking and reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions in its facilities and operations. In 2004, the city collected baseline data of emissions for the entire community and for the city as an organization. This effort was part of the Canary Initiative, a program designed to help reduce both government and communitywide carbon emissions to advance the City Council adopted goal of reducing emissions by 30 percent in 2020 and 80 percent by 2050 below the 2004 baseline.

Each year since the 2004 data collection, the Canary Initiative has tracked its progress toward this goal by analyzing energy consumption and emissions from all its facilities, fleet fuel and work-related travel. A majority of these efforts come in the form of efficiency measures where the city is a recognized leader. The 2011 analysis of emissions from city facilities and operations shows a more than 10 percent cumulative reduction since 2004 baseline levels, exceeding the 2011 goal.

All 13 city owned facilities have had technical energy audits with an Energy Services Company that did energy efficiency retrofits, replacements and upgrades amounting to a total of 12.5 percent reduction of energy consumption in the buildings. New lighting in the parking garage and ACRA building alone resulted in more than a 50 percent savings in electric consumption.

In 2006, the city started an efficiency division in its utility department that provides resources to all local citizens and businesses and has helped implement many of the major improvements in commercial and residential buildings in the area. This division partners with the Community Office for Resource Efficiency to provide rebates and incentives to individuals and businesses interested in energy efficiency and renewable energy.

It brought the Building Performance Institute to Aspen to teach and certify contractors and individuals to do home audits and retrofit work for energy improvements. The city started the first certified residential home assessment program in the valley and has adopted building codes to ensure energy efficient projects, and trained contractors and builders on efficiency measures.

By reaching out to the community with our many and varied programs, the city is promoting clean energy and energy efficiency. The city utility also implemented tiered electric and water rates in 2006. The tiered structure encourages rate payers to conserve and rewards them with lower rates.

Will Aspen be completely green tomorrow? No (in fact, we’re hoping for snow), but every day the city focuses on clean energy goals is a step in the right direction. We as a government and a citizenry need to do everything we can to help protect Aspen’s environment and do our part to reduce global carbon emissions. We can all do more.

It will take every method out there, not just renewables, double-paned windows or electric vehicles. The city of Aspen is committed to pursuing every possible solution to achieve its strong environmental goals and welcomes your input on the process.

For more information on Canary Initiative or greening your business, contact Lauren McDonell at 970-429-1831. For more information on energy efficiency, contact Jeff Rice at 970-920-5118.