TELLURIDE – It’s been a full decade since the Town of Telluride put itself on an energy diet with the goal of slimming down its carbon footprint. Over the years, it has been something of a yo-yo effort. But now, thanks to a winning strategy of diet and exercise (energy efficiency measures and investment in renewable energy sources), the town has managed to make the scales tip decisively in the right direction.
Public Works Project Manager Karen Guglielmone delivered this good news to council last week.
She presented to council an energy audit showing that the town government has officially met a goal set in 2006 to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 7 percent by 2012. Even better, the town is over halfway toward meeting a more recent goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from town government facilities and operations 20 percent from 2005 levels by the year 2020, as prescribed by the Colorado Climate Action Plan.
In all, Guglielmone reported, the town’s C02e (an abbreviation of 'carbon dioxide equivalent,' the internationally recognized measure of greenhouse gas emissions) in 2012 was down 11.4 percent from 2005 levels. When taking into account the carbon sequestration value of the town’s investment in open space, both in the Valley Floor and at the Bear Creek Preserve, that number almost doubles.
But in order to meet its ultimate Colorado Climate Action Plan 2020 Goal, the town government must continue to do even more to decrease (or offset) its GHG emissions over the next seven years.
Guglielmone was optimistic that this could be done. “We are being smarter about the decisions that are being made,” she told council. “By making investments in renewable energy, we are using energy that does not have the carbon generation capacity of coal and natural gas. We are in this for the long term.”
DOING MORE WITH LESS
Over the past 10 years, Telluride’s population and infrastructure have grown and put greater demands on town government services. But at the same time, the town has been increasing its efficiencies in numerous ways.
“We are actually doing more with less,” Guglielmone said.
The town has focused much of its efforts on reducing its usage of coal-generated electric energy, because studies show that this is by far the largest slice of pie (67 percent) when it comes to GHG emissions that the town creates.
“It’s the low-hanging fruit where we are getting the biggest bang for our efforts,” Guglielmone said.
Some of the steps that the town has taken to reduce electric consumption include conducting energy audits on town-owned buildings and implementing recommendations to make the buildings more energy efficient; swapping out old light bulbs for energy-efficient LEDs and CFLs; and behavioral modifications such as training employees to be obsessive about turning out lights when they are not in use.
With the exception of Hanley Pavilion, Guglielmone reported that town facilities across the board are using less energy than they used to, thanks to effective implementation of efficiency measures.
Town employees have also been remarkably successful at reducing their own carbon footprint by carpooling, walking, or taking public transit to work.
INVESTING IN INFRASTRUCTURE AND OFFSETS
Another way the town has offset its growing energy demand is by stepping up its investment in renewable energy resources for power generated at the Bridal Veil Hydroelectric Power Station and Paradox Valley Solar Garden.
Additionally, the town has made a commitment to investing in its own renewable energy generation infrastructure, with the construction of a 100 kW-capacity solar array at its wastewater treatment plant – by far the largest energy consumer among town-owned facilities – and the hydropower project it plans to incorporate at the Pandora Water Treatment Plant, which should be operational by 2017.
Over the course of its first two years of operation, the solar array has generated 340,000 kWh, saving the Town of Telluride approximately $23,000 in electric costs and approximately $4,000 in demand charges, Guglielmone reported.
“In 2005, we had 1.8 kWh and now we are using 1.7; we are treating more wastewater with less electricity,” she said.
The array is on schedule to deliver a 30-year investment pay-back. It cost approximately $680,000 to construct, with $150,000 coming from a Governor’s Energy Office (GEO) grant and the remaining funds provided by Telluride and Mountain Village.
“We are really getting close,” Guglielmone said. “Certainly, the decision to offset the town’s electric use with the solar array on the West End puts us closer, and putting hydro in at the Pandora Water Treatment Plant will probably put the town over its 2020 goal.”
The town government has already implemented several measures to encourage the greening of the greater Telluride community, from financing a free public transit system (consisting of the Galloping Goose bus system and the gondola between Telluride and Mountain Village) to the 2010 adoption of a green building code that requires new houses to offset their electric usage.
Guglielmone said, however, that there are still plenty of things the town could do, incentive-wise, to get locals on board with energy conservation. Within the community as a whole, residential and commercial buildings eat up the biggest slice of energy pie, at 28 percent and 26 percent respectively.
Guglielmone thus suggested that the town consider offering incentives to mirror a program such as the recent Main Street Energy Initiative (MSEI), implemented by EcoAction Partners and funded by a grant from the Governor’s Energy Office, which helped 12 local and regional businesses and nonprofits become more energy efficient by funding the services of local energy auditors, contractors, and energy efficiency rebates.
Other low-hanging fruit exists in the transportation sector. “Get folks on the [Galloping] Goose. Get folks on carpooling,” Guglielmone said. “We have 30 percent more ridership than in 2005; ridership is increasing and we know every time the price of gas goes up more people are using the Goose.”
Councilor Chris Myers applauded the progress that the town government has made in meeting its energy efficiency goals, but wondered how to convince the community at large to follow the town’s example.
“How do we take it beyond the doors of government and encourage rather than mandate?” he asked.
“With the good news we have for our facilities and operations in 2012, it makes me feel more comfortable in doing more outreach in the community,” Guglielmone said. “We can tell the community that we have done it, and are seeing great returns, and we would like to help them do it, too. Without having this success story, it’s harder to have that dialogue. We have that opportunity now.”