Dozens of area residents are asking the Durango City Council to set a goal of powering the city with 100% renewable energy by 2050, even if there isn’t a clear path to achieve the objective.
Community leaders, the San Juan Citizens Alliance, the Durango chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby, Local First, former and current elected and appointed officials and members of the La Plata Electric Association Board of Directors – appearing in a personal capacity – brought signs and provided comment at Tuesday’s regularly scheduled City Council meeting.
At least 14 residents spoke for a maximum of three minutes each about issues related to climate change and renewable energy, taking more than 40 minutes to express their collective views.
“Anthropogenic climate change is real and we are at a crisis, and I recognize that,” said City Councilor Barbara Noseworthy on Tuesday. “... I see so many activists here in the room, and we’re so fortunate to have you here but we all have a responsibility because climate change is at a crisis now.”
A letter sent weeks ago to City Council alerted the city staff that the activists planned to express their views during the public participation period.
“Southwest Colorado is particularly vulnerable to the effects of environmental change, including reduced snowpack and stream flows, reduced agricultural and rangeland yields, larger and more intense wildfires, heat threats and damage to year-round tourism,” San Juan Citizens Alliance and Local First executive directors wrote to City Council. “... Durango has a responsibility to mitigate these climate impacts by honestly assessing our carbon footprint and taking aggressive action toward curbing it.”
Durango Sustainability Coordinator Imogen Ainsworth presented the city’s efforts to measure and curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Ainsworth worked with academics from Fort Lewis College and the University of Colorado, Boulder providing pro bono work to analyze carbon emissions in “the Durango community as a whole.”
Preliminary findings show the city produced 354,374 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, according to the draft document.
Carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2e, is a standard metric used to measure the amount of CO2 emissions “with the same global warming potential as 1 metric ton of another greenhouse gas,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website.
All the carbon produced in Durango in 2016 is equivalent to consuming about 40 million gallons of gasoline or burning 1,933 railcars’ worth of coal, according to the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator. It would take 75 wind turbines running nonstop for a year to offset the amount of CO2e Durango generated in 2016, calculations show.
Capturing, storing and reusing the atmospheric carbon dioxide produced by Durango in 2016 would require 5.9 million tree seedlings growing for 10 years to make the city carbon neutral, according to the EPA’s calculation.
The draft study, once completed, is intended to serve as “a benchmark to inform plan updates and goal-setting,” Ainsworth told City Council on Tuesday. The department hopes to complete a detailed audit of greenhouse gas emissions in Durango by early 2020, she said. The document will give decision-makers the metrics they need to determine how best to curb or sequester greenhouse gas emissions in each city department, she said.
One way to address energy efficiency is through what is known administratively as energy performance contracting. EPCs offer state agencies, higher education institutions and local governments a means to finance energy-saving facility improvements through guaranteed future cost savings.
EPCs require a public entity to hire a qualified energy service company to audit facilities and recommend potential improvements that would guarantee future cost savings. The guaranteed future cost savings realized in subsequent years repay the contractors for the work done. After the financing period ends, the public entity accrues all cost savings.
There’s no clear path forward to reaching renewable energy goals, but Ainsworth said EPCs may be a way for the city to get started.