Friday, August 7, 2020

Crested Butte Climate Action Plan rallies citizens

The challenge is not without cost

by Mark Reaman

With the goal to have Crested Butte be a zero emissions town powered by 100 percent renewable energy by the year 2030, a public presentation of the town’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) was presented to a full house of about 175 people at the old Center for the Arts on Wednesday, December 4.

“We want achievable goals and meaningful action,” the plan’s architect and Crested Butte town planner Mel Yemma told the crowd. She reiterated that advocacy and not just hard action was also part of the plan in an effort to influence people beyond the valley.

The evening started with Crested Butte mayor Jim Schmidt explaining why the small town is taking on the major endeavor. “The town feels we need to lead in this area,” he said. “If we don’t, who will?”

Fifteen-year-old Crested Butte Community School student Nola Hadley was part of the committee that put together the CAP. She said many people her age see a gloomy future for the earth and themselves. “We desperately need those in power to give us hope,” she said. “Give young people a chance for a future. We need to stand up and take the first step.”

Ecosystem scientist Dr. Jane Zelikova showed her film End of Snow that in part features billy barr of the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory.

“Mountain ecosystems are particularly sensitive to climate change,” Zelikova said. “Fifty percent of our drinking water comes from the mountains. And it is not just water but there are significant economic impacts. We need to pull the carbon out of the air. There are solutions on the table but they must be used. A town like Crested Butte trying to do something is a sign of optimism. It brings courage and hope.”

Another member of the CAP development committee, Patrick Church, said, “It is beyond the time for simply recycling and changing to LED light bulbs. It is time for real change. It is a challenge and the challenge is immense but it offers opportunity. Doing it in the town of Crested Butte matters. It’s your home. There is opportunity to collaborate and solve big issues. I’m an optimist. We can become a model for other communities and a model for our children.”

Most of the proposed actions in the CAP center on transportation and buildings that were identified as the biggest opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and move away from fossil fuels. Yemma said sequestration efforts would be considered more in depth at a later time.

Town community development director Michael Yerman said it will take a regional effort for the plan to be a success. The plan contains elements such as mandating sleep mode technology; calling for deep energy retrofits for existing buildings; putting solar panels on town buildings; and possibly including a retrofit component with any InDeed type program that would pay owners of existing free market housing units to put a deed restriction on the property.

There are ideas to prohibit single occupancy vehicle (SOV) use with some designated “No Car Zones” in town and action to encourage more public transportation use.

Yemma said waste reduction is also part of the CAP and the goal of the town is to be a “zero waste” community. That would require mandatory composting and probably the need for an industrial composting operation.

Yerman and Yemma admitted there is a “cost reality” associated with the plan. For example, the estimate to retrofit 16 town-owned buildings is about $1.5 million. Putting solar panels on multiple town buildings would add another $1.6 million in cost. A larger, 1 megawatt solar array could cost $3.6 million, excluding land or permitting costs. Commercial scale composting could take many forms. For an anaerobic digester, which produces biogas from organic waste, to service the size of the Gunnison Valley, the cost could hit the high end of between $8 million and $10 million.

“This plan is a first step,” said Yerman. “We are listening to ideas that will help us get to zero emissions in 2030.”

The Town Council plans to officially adopt the Climate Action on December 16 when the town will also declare a formal “climate emergency.”

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