Summit County community rallies for energy conservation |

Summit County community rallies for energy conservation

Julie Sutor
Summit correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colorado – The local community may soon have a road map to greater energy efficiency, more renewable energy and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

A group of private- and public-sector leaders has come together to build a plan to guide future energy use and conservation efforts throughout Summit County The coalition, dubbed the Summit County Energy Working Group, includes Summit County Government, the towns of Breckenridge, Frisco, Silverthorne and Dillon, Vail Resorts, Summit School District, the Colorado Governor’s Energy Office, Colorado Mountain College, High Country Conservation Center and Xcel Energy.

“So far, the buy-in and investment has been awesome from all our different partners,” said Lynne Westerfield, the Conservation Center’s community energy coordinator. “Every single person I’ve talked to has been interested in what we’re doing and in giving input.”

Summit County is one of 52 counties across Colorado now developing community-based energy plans. Each participating community will gather baseline energy data, determine areas of greatest energy use, identify ways to conserve and implement relevant policies and programs. The local plan will likely include long-term goals for new buildings, existing buildings, community planning, land-use, transportation and public education. The Governor’s Energy Office has provided $2.2 million to hire energy coordinators to facilitate the various planning efforts statewide.

“In some communities we are going to see that industry makes up the bulk of energy use,” said Mona Newton of the Energy Office. “We still need to get a better handle on Summit County, but it looks like buildings are the biggest energy consumers. That’s why it’s good to do this county-by-county.”

Newton said Summit County’s reliance on tourism presents interesting challenges on the energy-conservation front.

“If you start sending a message to visitors that we want to be good stewards, and we invite them to join us in that stewardship, it can create more awareness and conscientious use of resources,” Newton said.

Summit County government planner Kate Berg, a member of the working group, said the process is well coordinated with the county’s own sustainability efforts. The county government began its work by focusing on energy improvements in its own facilities and operations and then by developing ways to reduce energy use in the greater community in partnership with other agencies.

“Sustainability has definitely been one of the county’s core values – it’s part of our Countywide Comprehensive Plan,” Berg said. “We want to be involved in this effort to help develop a plan that can reduce emissions and help increase production of renewable energy. I think the process is really starting to pick up, and I think all the right people are at the table.”

One of the things that’s creating momentum behind the Summit plan is its mix of public and private entities.

“Vail Resorts is fully committed to more efficient energy practices and being leaders in the resort communities in which we operate,” said Breckenridge Resort’s Dave November. “By participating with the Summit County Energy Working Group, we’re bringing our company commitment to energy efficiency, as well as our staff expertise, to the table. We’re glad to be part of this community effort and important discussion.”

Vail Resorts is now in the second year of its two-year goal to reduce the company’s energy consumption by 10 percent.

According to Newton, having communitywide energy plans in place can serve as an economic driver as well as an environmental safeguard.

“Companies want to go to communities where their products align with what’s happening in the community. The renewable energy standard has helped incent energy companies to come to Colorado. Now we have hundreds of renewable energy companies. This (energy planning process) continues to create a position for Colorado that’s going to help us stay in the forefront of the new energy economy,” Newton said.

According to Westerfield, the Summit working group should have a draft plan ready to unveil to the community in the fall.

SDN reporter Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-4630 or

Support Local Journalism