The Durango City Council has committed to steering the community’s energy usage to more renewable sources – including setting ambitious goals – but has laid out no specific methods for reaching those goals.
City leaders plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions citywide by 80% and encourage the use of 100% renewable electricity in Durango by 2050. That includes transforming public energy usage for government buildings and activities while also crafting policies to encourage renewable electricity for residents and businesses.
Imogen Ainsworth, Durango’s sustainability coordinator, said city staff crafted the goals to match renewable energy and greenhouse gas-emissions targets set by other communities across the state and the country. The objectives serve as a benchmark city staff can use to focus resources, she said.
“It really gives us an end point or a goal to aim for when we start looking at an update of the (2015) sustainability plan,” Ainsworth said. “That’s where the specific strategies will be: How do we get to 100% renewable.”
The goals came about a week after dozens of community members attended a regular City Council meeting to demand the city set a goal of 100% renewable energy by 2050. More than 1,600 residents and 120 businesses in Durango city limits signed a petition to that effect.
Durango resident Kirby MacLaurin, who has been working to promote better energy practices, credits the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 Campaign for helping drive the local effort. The environmental organization says more than a quarter of the population in the United States lives in a community committed to the transition to 100% clean and renewable energy, including anything from installing solar arrays to purchasing “green power” to offset greenhouse gas emissions.
“Across the U.S., over 90 cities, more than 10 counties and two states have already adopted ambitious 100% clean energy goals,” according to the Sierra Club. “... Building on this history of climate leadership, we are calling on cities to transition to 100% clean, renewable energy.”
A community effortMacLaurin said he’s “really grateful” for the City Council commitments, but he wishes officials would have been more specific and ambitious in setting renewable energy and greenhouse-gas reduction goals.
For example, the city’s resolution calls for 100% renewable “electricity” by 2050, but the petition seeks 100% renewable “energy,” including transportation and heating systems that may not be captured under the specific terms of the resolution, MacLaurin said. Furthermore, the city’s resolution says nothing about local renewable energy, a key point of the community’s request to bring jobs and clean air to Durango, he said.
Ainsworth said use of the word “electricity” when referring to renewable energy was intentional; renewable gas cars or more efficient oil heating is not the goal. The objective is to encourage a transition from fossil fuels to all electricity, such as electric cars or solar-powered climate control in buildings versus gas cars or coal furnaces.
Reaching the adopted energy and greenhouse gas goals may require residents be more conscious about energy use, Ainsworth said. City staff and council cannot do it alone, she said.
The city can craft laws to discourage behavior and impose policies to encourage resident action.
It can’t force people to install solar arrays, but it can make permitting for the technology easier, for example. No one can make residents buy electric vehicles, but the city can install, or encourage the installation of, more charging stations.
The community is primed for action to address climate change, MacLaurin said.
“I see it as a city on the verge, the tipping point. We’re in a very exciting moment,” he said. “I’ve talked to thousands of people, almost everyone I talk to is very forward-oriented, ready to embrace change; even if it will involve some disruptions.”
A starting pointIt’s unclear what change will look like, but Katie Pellicore, energy and climate organizer at San Juan Citizens Alliance, said she has some ideas.
The city could contract – using taxpayer dollars – to install solar arrays on all city buildings, she said. A resident task force could oversee city spending to ensure accountability, but that’s something that may encumber policymaking and spending decisions, she said.
But the City Council’s commitments are a good place to start, Pellicore said. Too much focus on details can impede the larger conversation about what the renewable energy and greenhouse gas-emissions goals mean to the community, she said.
“The goal itself is really important. It will help guide city policy and discussion. They can use that as a way to direct funding and resources,” Pellicore said. “As far as semantics – electricity versus energy – it would be nice if the goals were a little bit broader, but more important is to make headway. The council can always revise a goal to make it broader. It’s important to start making moves.”
Action by the city to meet clean energy and greenhouse gas-reduction goals may improve the environment and the economy, Pellicore said. Encouraging more local renewable energy production will likely bring jobs – like companies that install solar energy – to Southwest Colorado, she said.
Going green makes financial senseMonique DiGiorgio, director at Local First, said city residents spend around $70 million on energy each year. Most of that money leaves the community through La Plata Electric Association’s agreement with Tri-State Generation and Transmission, she said.
Creating a renewable energy market in Durango will keep those dollars local, DiGiorgio said.
“Producing renewable energy is something we can do at home to improve the economy and environment,” she said. “To us, it’s a no-brainer to support this type of thing.”
Durango’s commitment and action won’t, on its own, stop accelerated global climate change, Pellicore said. But “a lot of people agree that renewable energy is a positive thing and it is where we’re heading,” she said.
“Making goals and stating intentions, even if it is just Durango – it sends a message to power providers and legislators,” Pellicore said. “I think sending that message is very important for getting work done on a big scale.”
MacLaurin said climate goals and action in Durango may have an infectious effect on the Four Corners. Change is difficult, but people may better appreciate the benefits of innovation if they can see it in action, he said.
“At one point, we were driving horse-and-buggies. People resisted the automobile. It’s just a matter of being able to witness the changes,” MacLaurin said. “Durango is the marketplace for people to see these ideas put into place. It’s not being jammed down their throats.”