Morgan asks all municipalities to join in
As the Crested Butte ski season sputters to a start on a ribbon of man-made snow because of unseasonably warm and dry weather, Mt. Crested Butte mayor Chris Morgan says global warming is a real problem, and all the valley’s energy users must do their part to reduce carbon emissions.
“I am very concerned about the future of resorts like ours due to climate change,” Morgan says.
To meet the challenge of warming due to fossil fuel consumption, four local governmental entities—the municipalities of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte, the City of Gunnison and Gunnison County—have agreed to work together to reduce the valley’s carbon footprint.
Three of those entities get their electricity primarily from Gunnison County Electric Association (GCEA), while Gunnison has its own utility to serve most of its power needs.
According to Morgan, who is also a board member of GCEA, Gunnison should make an effort to catch up with their neighbors to the north on the issue of carbon reduction particularly when it comes to electricity.
“If we’re going to reduce carbon emissions, then the City of Gunnison has to come in as an equal partner,” he says.
Morgan notes that GCEA offsets 10 percent of its energy use with renewable energy credits. The 10 percent comes in the form of actual renewable energy sources like wind and solar, as well as energy offsets—like the planting of trees to suck up CO2 emissions.
Morgan would like to see the City of Gunnison use similar carbon-offsetting strategies and engage more vigorously in local clean energy programs.
“The City of Gunnison isn’t even a member of the ORE,” says Morgan. ORE is the Office of Resource Efficiency, a non-profit organization based in Crested Butte dedicated to facilitating energy savings and carbon reduction throughout the Gunnison Valley.
The towns of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte and Gunnison County are ORE partners, along with GCEA, Crested Butte Mountain Resort and Western State College.
Gunnison mayor Stu Ferguson takes issue with the notion that Gunnison isn’t responding forcefully to climate change.
“I feel like we are aggressively addressing the challenge of global warming,” he says.
He notes that Gunnison was the first local entity to sign the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. The agreement commits municipalities to meet or beat the Kyoto climate protocol targets, reduce carbon emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012 and to urge Congress to pass greenhouse gas reduction legislation.
Ferguson says the vast majority of Gunnison’s electricity is produced by hydropower.
“We also purchase wind attributes,” he says.
Ferguson also says the city plans to incorporate green building features like solar panels into all new projects as well retrofitting existing buildings with such features.
“We try to set a good example for our citizens,” he says.
Gunnison city manager Ken Coleman agrees that Gunnison is doing its part to reduce its carbon footprint. Coleman says the city uses a modern, well-maintained vehicle fleet to reduce air pollution.
The city is also experimenting with electric vehicles and taking other steps to encourage people to adopt energy-saving measures.
“We handed out over a thousand energy-saving light bulbs,” Coleman says.
“(Nebraska Municipal Power Pool) established one of the first wind farms,” he says.
But Coleman says carbon reduction is primarily a matter of personal responsibility.
“You and I as individuals can make the choice whether to turn off the lights or drive a dirty vehicle,” he says. “Those individual choices can add up to big changes.”
Gunnison Board of County Commissioners chairman Hap Channell says he thinks Gunnison is doing “a good bit” to address the issue of climate change, but says everybody’s efforts, so far, have been inadequate.
“I don’t think any of us are doing enough,” he says.
Channell says he is looking forward to the results of a carbon emissions audit that the four governmental entities have undertaken to get a clear picture of the best ways to reduce the local carbon footprint.
“Once that comes in, we’ll really be able to move on the issue,” he says.
Morgan is also looking forward to analyzing the results of the carbon study, but says there are no easy solutions to the problem of carbon emissions.
One problem, according to Morgan, is a state mandate that requires a utility to provide power to everyone within its service area. If the utility cannot supply enough power, by law it must invest in the most inexpensive (and usually the dirtiest) power to make up the deficit.
But Morgan says pressure is being exerted on power providers to furnish cleaner energy, including wind and solar. He cites Amendment 37, passed by the Colorado electorate in 2004, that requires the state’s largest utilities to obtain 3 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2007 and 10 percent by 2015.
“That’s a good thing,” he says.
Still, Morgan says, the easiest and most cost-effective means of reducing carbon is through conservation. For example, he noted that for the $60 million that one power company was spending for a photovoltaic solar plant to produce eight megawatts of power, 60 million incandescent light bulbs could be replaced with low-energy compact fluorescent bulbs.
“That would save a whole power plant,” he says.
In order to save energy and cut carbon, Morgan says, “Conservation is still the low-hanging fruit.”
Bruce Driver of the Clean Energy Alliance (ACE), a regional group dedicated to weaning local energy users from reliance on carbon-producing energy like coal, says that energy providers like Nebraska Municipal Power Pool and Tri-State Generation and Transmission Inc. are a major part of the problem. Tri-State which serves 44 western state utilities including GCEA, is largely powered by coal, according to Driver.
“When it came time for GCEA to renew their contract with Tri-State, we argued vigorously they should not,” he says.
GCEA renewed with Tri-State despite Clean Energy Alliance objections, but Driver says his organization was heartened by the state of Kansas’ refusal to permit two new coal-fired power plants that Tri-State was proposing.
Driver says a Boulder energy consultant, Summit Blue, characterized the permit denial as an opportunity for Tri-State to pursue progressive clean energy production.
“We strongly support that position,” says Driver.
Driver says that in the future, he expects his group to also challenge the City of Gunnison to demand clean energy from their supplier.
“We ought to be looking at the City of Gunnison as well,” he says.
However, since the Clean Energy Alliance is relatively new, Driver says his organization hasn’t had a chance to pressure Gunnison.
Morgan says he would welcome any efforts by the two local utilities to work together to reduce their carbon footprint.
“It’s important to me that all the utilities work together and present a united front as one community,” he says. “Our job is to teach our members how to best use their energy resources,” he says.