The High Country Conservation Center unveiled its draft proposal for Summit County’s collaborative Climate Action Plan. The plan, which calls for a multipronged approach to lowering Summit’s carbon footprint, was unveiled at the Board of County Commissioners’ regular work meeting on Tuesday morning.
The climate action plan is a collaborative effort between Summit County’s largest employers initiated in 2018 to reduce energy use and carbon emissions. The collaboration is facilitated by HC3 and made up of the county, Breckenridge, Frisco, Silverthorne, the ski resorts, Summit School District, Colorado Mountain College and Breckenridge Grand Vacations. The plan aims for 50 percent emission cuts by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050.
Aside from reducing the local footprint, the collaborative and the climate action plan is also meant to set an example that other communities can follow, as the problem is far larger and requires a lot more global effort than what Summit County can muster on its own.
“Colorado is one of the fastest growing states, and has warmed by an average of 2 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 30 years,” said HC3’s climate action director Jess Hoover. “There are big consequences to getting any warmer. If we do nothing, Denver will be more like Albuquerque by the end of the century.”
Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier pointed out that Lake Dillon, one of the largest drinking water reservoirs for Denver and the Front Range, has risen in surface temperature by nearly 5 degrees over the past 35 years. Summit’s elevation has worked as a buffer against negative effects from the rising temperature though.
The primary concern for Summit County is the way climate change is affecting snowfall and water flows. Hoover said there was a direct correlation between rising temperatures and lack of snowfall.
The first step in Summit’s climate action plan was to study and inventory the county’s biggest sources of greenhouse gas pollution in order to pinpoint areas of concern. It was found that 35 percent of county greenhouse emissions came from commercial building energy, 33 percent from transportation, 30 percent from residential energy use and 2 percent from waste decomposition.
Breaking it down by area, unincorporated Summit County — which includes the ski resorts — produced 57 percent of greenhouse emissions, with the Breckenridge producing 20 percent, Silverthorne producing 9 percent, Frisco producing 8 percent, Dillon producing 4 percent and Blue River producing 2 percent.
Looking at the biggest areas of concern, HC3 recommended reducing building energy use as the top priority for the county. To do that, it was recommended that the county adopt the 2018 International Energy Conservation Code, as well as support and participate in efforts to update the Summit sustainable building code and require all new construction to be solar- and electric-vehicle ready. HC3 also recommended that the county begin tracking individual building energy use to identify properties that need energy efficiency improvements.
To streamline solar panel permitting in the county, HC3 recommended Summit and other partners participate in the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s SolSmart program. SolSmart is a federal program that provides technical assistance for local governments to install solar energy producing infrastructure in their communities.
As far as government vehicles, HC3 supports the development of a communitywide electric vehicle readiness plan that would create the infrastructure needed to sustain an electrical vehicle future. HC3 also recommended the county identify opportunities to create electric vehicle fleets when current vehicles begin phasing out.
Given the importance of trees as a carbon bank that can soak up carbon emissions, HC3 recommended the county and its partners use “Transfer of Development Rights” programs to continue buying up or trading development rights from private landowners to ensure the forest and wildland areas are conserved while landowners maintain the right to use the land for non-development purposes.
Finally, to reduce the marginal but still important concern of greenhouse gas emissions from waste, HC3 recommended the county install zero-waste stations in all facilities, as well as create and enforce zero-waste requirements at all county events.
Top of the questions from the county commissioners and county staff was how to pay for all of this. HC3 executive director Jennifer Schenck said that the plan has not been finalized and budgeting is one of the big issues that needs to be resolved before implementation. However, she sees the improvements paying for themselves.
“The Climate Action Plan is focused on greenhouse gas reductions and strategies to hit our emissions targets in each sector,” Schenck said. “As we begin implementation, HC3 and our community partners are developing short-term workplans and associated budgets. … Increasing energy efficiency and adding renewables often has an up-front cost, but the payback periods are now shorter than ever before. For instance, electricity produced from renewables by utilities is now cost-competitive with coal or natural-gas-generated electricity.”