“We’re going to work together”
Birds are chirping, grass is emerging and spring is in the air… and so are millions of tons of pollutants linked to global warming, which is why entities like the Office for Resource Efficiency (ORE) and the Clean Energy Alliance are taking steps to reduce pollution countywide. This summer ORE, in conjunction with local governments, will be developing a Gunnison Valley Energy Action Plan in an effort to organize the myriad of “green” initiatives and programs. “Eventually all these different initiatives that got started are going to be comprised in one direction,” says ORE executive director Gesa Michel.
The Energy Action Plan includes publicizing a greenhouse gas emissions inventory for Gunnison County, hosting a watershed-wide energy summit, and developing and passing local energy action plans.
The recent wave of green initiatives Michel speaks of began in May 2005, when the three municipalities of the Gunnison Valley signed the U.S. Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement. The agreement required that participating cities take actions that strive to meet or exceed the provisions of the Kyoto Protocol, which calls for reducing pollution levels 7 percent by 2012.
In the fall of 2006 ORE began promoting the Cities for Climate Protection campaign (CCP), a program that also strives to meet or exceed the provisions of the Kyoto Protocol—but unlike the Mayors’ Agreement, the CCP campaign consists of an active program that communities can follow to help reach the reduction goals.
Michel says the U.S. Mayors’ Agreement was an important step calling for action, but it has become dated and was limited to municipalities. “The Mayors’ Agreement is basing reduction levels on 1990 (data) to be reduced 7 percent by 2012. The two difficulties are, 2012 is approaching quickly, and it is very difficult to get the numbers for 1990,” Michel says.
She says the CCP campaign is presently more valid, and allows the use of data collected in more recent years to serve as an emissions baseline.
Each of the four government agencies in the valley (Gunnison County, City of Gunnison, Town of Crested Butte, and Town of Mt. Crested Butte) agreed to contribute funding to the first step of the program, which is to develop a carbon emissions inventory for the entire valley. That document is still in production and should be released this summer Michel says.
Also in the fall of 2006 the Gunnison County Electric Association reported that their energy provider, Tri State Transmission and Generation, planned on building several new coal-fired power plants to meet future energy demands. In response, local environmental advocates High Country Citizens’ Alliance created the Climate and Clean Energy program. HCCA executive director Wendy McDermott says, “The main advocacy is to work with GCEA to help encourage Tri-State not to build any more power plants with dated technology and to diversify the type of electricity it transmits.”
HCCA also assisted in creating the Alliance for Clean Energy, a group of GCEA customers that shared the goal of encouraging Tri-State not to build additional coal power plants.
Within several months, another round of energy use and sustainability discussions began with a multi-day energy summit hosted by the Sonoran Institute, in June 2007. Michel says this was the point where local entities started to realize the different challenges of going green and how governments and community members alike must work together to achieve a common goal. “The first step that was suggested was for the governments to sign a resolution,” Michel says.
The resolution happened in the form of the Gunnison Valley Sustainability Initiative, a group of citizens led by former City of Gunnison planner Kim Antonucci and Mt. Crested Butte community development assistant Theresa Henry. The initiative, which has since disbanded, created a presentation on energy efficiency and drafted a resolution for the four governments in the Gunnison Valley to sign. “It basically said, ‘We’re going to work together,’” Michel says.
The sustainability initiative was also successful in getting the towns of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte to enter into several statewide grant programs, such as the Insulate and Seal grant program, which provides financial assistance to homeowners wishing to improve their home efficiency through insulation.
Early in 2007, the Insulate and Seal program, along with a host of other statewide mechanisms developed through recent legislation, was combined into the Governor’s Energy Office, organized by Colorado Governor Bill Ritter to keep track of the state’s new energy laws and programs, and to be an outlet to get the public involved.
Michel says one of the caveats of the Sustainability Initiative’s resolution was that a temporary task force would be developed to create energy efficiency and sustainability recommendations for the four governments to achieve as a whole.
Crested Butte Town Council member Billy Rankin serves on the task force and says they are getting ready to give their recommendations this summer. Rankin says it’s a little early to reveal specific details, but “The recommendations will be how to utilize the resources of the valley the best… There are different entities and resources that need to work together and not duplicate efforts.”
At the same time of the Sonoran Institute summit, Michel says ORE and board president Alison Gannett created the CROP process, which stands for calculate, reduce, offset and produce. “CROP is a method of how you look at energy use and find ways to reduce it… It’s kind of a decision making tool,” Michel says. She says CROP is similar to the Cities for Climate Protection program. Both programs recommend first taking an inventory of energy use and pollution emissions, and then proceeding to develop ways to reduce energy use and pollution.
The difference between the two, Michel says, is CROP can be used for community wide decision-making as well as at the individual citizen level. “CROP can be used on every level… the CCP process is designed specifically for governments and communities as a whole to reduce their energy use,” she says.
With several different groups and programs all aimed at reducing energy use, Michel says ORE is now trying to bring it all back together. “We’re calling it the Energy Planning Process. The final goal of this whole thing is each entity will have an energy plan that outlines in different areas action steps to reduce energy consumption.”
To reach that goal, ORE is planning a watershed-wide energy summit in June 2008 and is inviting representatives of the various governments, civic organizations, businesses and members of general public.
Rankin says his task force has also been involved in planning the energy summit. “It will be a very working-group kind of think tank, not just a presentation about data,” he says.
Michel says the intended outcome is that work groups will be formed for each geographic community, organized around particular sectors of concern, such as buildings or transportation. The work groups will be asked to set energy reduction priorities and create a toolbox of local programs designed to meet the energy reduction goals.
Rankin says more information and advertising about the energy summit will be revealed soon.