Vail, Eagle County work on bringing more clean electricity to community |

Vail, Eagle County work on bringing more clean electricity to community

Transportation and buildings are the biggest sources of reducing greenhouse gas emissions

The towns of Vail and Avon are poised to add full-electric buses to their transit fleets.
Daily file photo

Here’s a phrase you’re going to start hearing more: “beneficial electrification.”

That phrase refers to goals of the Eagle County Climate Action Collaborative. That group, which includes members from Eagle County, local towns and nonprofit organizations, is working to by 2030 reduce the county’s greenhouse gas emissions 50% from 2014 levels.

Much of that work will involve electrifying transportation and the valley’s buildings.

Colorado is one of the states most quickly adopting electric vehicles. According to a 2018 study, electric vehicles’ market share increased more than 66% from 2017. Still, 2018 electric vehicle sales in Colorado accounted for just 2.6% of all vehicle sales.

But Vail Environmental Sustainability Director Kristen Bertuglia said Eagle County is doing better than the state overall in adopting electric vehicles.

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And, she added, vehicle technology combined with expanding charging infrastructure is making electric vehicles more practical for more people.

Town transit systems are a little easier to adapt to electric vehicles, and Vail and Avon are both building their electric bus fleets.

According to a model from the Climate Action Collaborative, electric vehicle adoption has the biggest potential to lower the county’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Electrifying buildings

In addition to vehicle use, beneficial electrification of buildings has the next-best potential to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

New technology is making electric homes far more cost-effective these days. While old-style baseboard electric heat can be vastly more expensive than natural gas heat, Bertuglia said everything from home heating to cooking stoves is far more efficient these days. A study in the city of Arvada shows that retrofitting existing structures is prohibitively expensive. That means new construction or renovation of existing buildings is the way to electrify.

Energy Smart Colorado can evaluate existing structures, and there are several rebate programs available from Energy Smart, Holy Cross Energy and other sources.

Vail Town Council member Kim Langmaid founded the Walking Mountains Science Center and has long advocated for sustainability issues. Langmaid said the Climate Action Collaborative has done a lot of research the town can use to make decisions about renewing infrastructure.

One of the biggest changes will be changing the boilers that fuel the town’s snowmelt system from gas to electricity. In fact, she said, the council on April 6 is set to discuss that and other changes.

Langmaid called the eventual transition to more electric use “exciting.”

Bringing in more power

Those changes will require more electricity.

Holy Cross provides power to most of Eagle County, including Vail. Can that utility provide more power and still meet its 2030 goal of getting 100% of its power from renewable sources?

In an email, Holy Cross CEO Bryan Hannegan wrote that Holy Cross “stands ready to develop additional clean energy projects, or contract for additional clean power supplies, to service the additional demand.”

Hannegan added that recent Holy Cross requests for proposals indicate “there is no shortage of opportunity for (Holy Cross) to develop clean energy resources at an economically competitive price.”

Getting electricity from clean sources is an essential part of beneficial electrification.

Without the work Holy Cross is doing, the drive for more electrification wouldn’t much matter.

“If we’re still on coal, none of this would make a difference,” said Bertuglia who’s also an elected member of the Holy Cross Energy Board of Directors.

Solar, wind and other energy sources are leading the drive for clean energy sources. Bertuglia noted that nuclear power plants are also clean sources. But, she added, those plants are very expensive, and can take decades from proposal to construction to operation.

As the county and its communities work toward reducing our collective carbon footprint, Langmaid said there’s been progress made.

“We’re doing OK,” Langmaid said. “But we’ve definitely got work to do.”

By the numbers

2%: Reduction in annual utility costs for new, all-electric homes versus natural gas systems, according to Rocky Mountain Institute study conducted in Denver.

50%: Emission reduction goal by 2030 of the Eagle County Climate Action Collaborative.

100%: Holy Cross Energy’s goal for renewable electricity sources by 2030.

2: Times per week local climate officials are asking commuters to leave their cars at home.

Source: March 16 Climate Action Collaborative presentation to the Vail Town Council.

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