Eagle County wants to get greener
EAGLE COUNTY – Hybrid vehicles, solar panels and new light bulbs could help Eagle County in its efforts to be one of the most environmentally friendly counties around.”We need to be good stewards of our nonrenewable resources,” said County Manager Bruce Baumgartner. “And it’s good business practice.”Recently the county was the subject of an energy audit, and Ennovate, the Denver-based company hired to do the audit, suggested a variety of energy-saving, eco-friendly options. They included everything from turning off the lights to buying motion-sensor soda machines to building wind farms.Some of the smaller things will be put into practice right away, and over the next two years the county plans to make many improvements, said Public Works Manager Tom Johnson.New, energy-efficient lights will be installed in county buildings, and new boilers can save energy and as much as $125,000 a year in bills, Johnson said.”Our (county) building is 17 years old, and our equipment is old,” he said. “We haven’t built that much lately, and we haven’t spent money on our buildings in a while.”The county already is environmentally conscious, Baumgartner said, pointing out its fleet of hybrid Priuses and the recent additions of hybrid buses to ECO Transit.”I think we’re doing good, but we’re striving for excellence,” he said.
Edwards resident Torri Jandebeur said she has noticed some of the efforts, such as the hybrid buses. But Eagle County still has some catching up to do, she said, especially compared with the resorts.”One of the biggest things they can do is with recycling efforts,” she said. “In other places you can just put it out and it is separated from your trash. I’d like to see (the county) working toward something like that.”Curbside pickup would encourage those who are “a little less motivated” to recycle, Jandebeur said.It is something the county already is working on, Baumgartner said.Right now there are several recycling drop-off sites, and curbside service is offered by Vail Honeywagon and Waste Management only if it is requested, he said. Eagle and Gypsum are the only towns that do not have those options.”We’re hoping to work with the towns and provide curbside service to Eagle and Gypsum. That will finish out the county,” he said.A new recycling transfer station at the landfill also would allow the trash services to process many more recycling products and do pickups from the drop-off sites more often, he said.Recycling cans also will hit the Eagle County Regional Airport soon.The first major project on the county’s to-do list will be xeriscaping the county building grounds, which will take out much of the grass and put in plants that are native to the area. Xeriscaping can reduce water usage for grounds maintenance as much as 50 percent, Baumgartner said.The Eagle County Board of Commissioners approved $300,000 for the first phase of the project this month, and digging will start in the late spring, Johnson said.Next year the county also plans to open a hazardous-waste center at the landfill, where paints and other “hazardous” items can be separated, processed and maybe even resold, Baumgartner said.
In the future, the county wants to look for new energy sources, Baumgartner said. That might include a photovoltaic farm near the airport, which harnesses solar energy, or hydropower from the Eagle River, he said.Alternative-energy production like that can save the county on its energy bills, too. Federal programs would allow the county to earn energy credits from electric companies or sell extra energy.But taking advantage of those programs will depend on whether federal and state regulations will require all energy companies to give those credits, Johnson said. “Right now, Holy Cross, since it’s a smaller company, doesn’t have to follow those programs, so we can’t really get those benefits,” he said.County heating systems could be revamped, too. The systems might be replaced with biomass heating systems, which use biomass such as wood chips instead of fuel oil. The county is looking at installing the systems at the landfill, at road and bridge buildings and in the new addition to the county Justice Center.
Solar-energy farms and the latest in energy-efficient technology can be expensive but would save the county money in the long run, Baumgartner said.”Our goal is to have payback on these things in less than 15 years,” he said.The extra cost can be worth it if it helps the county save energy and set an example as being environmentally responsible, officials said. Projects like geothermal heating in the Justice Center could add to what is already a tightly funded project, Commissioner Peter Runyon said.”Well, we’ve got to walk the talk,” he said.