Vail Valley towns have different approaches to climate plan
January 23, 2017
• Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from commercial buildings by 25 percent by 2025.
• Install a waste-to-energy system at the Eagle County Landfill.
• Expand the use of electric vehicles.
• Expand the Energy Smart Colorado program for homes.
EAGLE COUNTY — When the county commissioners adopted a climate action plan in 2016, the hope was for the county's towns to participate, too. But that participation will probably look quite different at different ends of the Vail Valley.
That plan was months in the making, and every town in the valley sent representatives to the meetings to help forge its recommendations. But the plan for now is a series of suggestions for jurisdictions to adopt to their communities.
The Vail Town Council on Tuesday passed a resolution adopting the plan. The vote was unanimous, but some council members wondered if the plan isn't more a feel-good document than an actual strategy.
Longtime resident Stephen Connolly recommended that the council look at concrete steps including expanding the town's ban on plastic grocery bags to other stores in town, as well as cutting back on a town ordinance that limits auto idling to 20 minutes.
Council member Greg Moffet asked if the plan might eventually lead to turning off some of the town's street heaters, especially on Meadow Drive.
No answers, yet
Those questions take some time to answer.
Vail Environmental Sustainability Coordinator Mark Hoblitzell said the town this year will update its 2009 Environmental Sustainability Plan. Elements of the county-wide plan will end up in this year's work, after town officials hold public open houses and work with both the town council and the Vail Planning and Environmental Commission.
While the county plan is advisory, Hoblitzell said Vail's new plan will incorporate elements of it.
As you'd expect, Vail has accounts for by far the most greenhouse gas emissions — carbon dioxide, methane and similar gases — in the county. On the other hand, Vail has far more visitors and part-time residents, so the per-capita numbers are wildly out of whack compared to other towns.
Still, the town accounts for a lot of greenhouse gases, and heating streets with natural gas-fired boilers adds to the total.
"We'll be taking a hard look at how we get our minds around heated streets," Hoblitzell said. Heated streets, on some level, will probably remain in place, Hoblitzell added. Those streets are both a guest amenity and serve a safety purpose.
The bigger question will be how the town incorporates other savings into its total emissions.
Hoblitzell said town facilities in the past decade have cut electricity use by more than 30 percent, thanks to use of more efficient lights, timers in rooms and other steps. The town has also cut its water use by 30 percent since 2006.
How those balance against other energy uses is something town residents and officials will have to put into a plan this year.
More modest goals
The plan's goals are more modest in Gypsum.
That town participated in the climate plan meetings but is taking a more limited look at its recommendations.
Gypsum Town Manager Jeff Shroll said the town is first looking at adopting the most recent International Building Code standards in town.
"There's a potential there for a balance that still does what we want (the plan) to do, but doesn't drive the cost of housing through the roof," Shroll said.
Since the plan is a guideline, Shroll added that allows each town "to adopt some things that may be a little unique."
Lana Gallegos is Gypsum's senior town planner and participated in the plan-drafting process.
"Our interest was from a position of what Gypsum can do to support businesses and residents, to help them participate if they want to," Gallegos said.
One step the town has taken is waiving permit fees for residents who want to install photovoltaic solar panels on their rooftops.
And, Gallegos said, the homes that Habitat for Humanity has been building in Gypsum's Stratton Flats neighborhood are already helping set standards for the rest of the town. Some of those houses are getting money back from the energy company because of how efficiently they were built.
While Vail has mandatory recycling and town officials hope to boost further the amount of waste taken out of the landfill, Gypsum takes a different approach.
"We want to support, not require," Gallegos said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org or @scottnmiller.