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Vail Daily column: County still going green

Kathy Chandler-Henry, Jill Ryan and Jeanne McQueeney
Valley Voices

Earth Week is the perfect time to reflect on how we can all do our part to preserve Mother Earth. At Eagle County, environmental stewardship and sustainability have long been priorities. For at least a decade we’ve been saving energy, cleaning up the environment and making it easier for all county residents to join us in those endeavors.

We revamped building codes to reflect environmental priorities, and in 2006, we began supporting energy efficiency and renewable energy projects through ECO-Build community grants. In 2007, the county replaced its fleet of SUVs with 20 Priuses, which continue to save hundreds of gallons of gasoline per year. Recently, the county added two electric charging stations for public use and bought a Chevy Volt with the promise of up to 95 miles per gallon equivalent as an experiment for our staff and mechanics.

Since 2007, the county has implemented many strategies friendly to the environment. We fixed our leaky buildings, and replaced old boilers and appliances with energy-efficient ones. We xeriscaped our campus, attached rain sensors to sprinklers, and replaced interior and exterior lighting with LEDs. We installed energy navigator and fuel monitoring systems that indicate how to adjust our buildings and buses for savings. A major community benefit has been the opening of the Material Recovery Facility in Wolcott. This county-owned recycling center is where materials are sorted, compacted and shipped. We’ve invited other counties, municipalities and businesses to join with us in using the Material Recovery Facility, adding the energy navigator system to buildings and minimizing water usage through smart planning techniques.

In 2013, we set an ambitious goal of reducing the use of energy, water, paper and fuel 15 percent by the end of 2015. Why the goal? Reducing the use of our finite resources not only helps the environment, but it also makes good business sense. Meeting our goal will save the county $350,000 per year and reduce annual CO2 emissions by 1,430 tons. By 2014, we had already made major strides in fuel efficiency and building repairs, so we needed something big to reach that 15 percent goal. Solar energy was our answer. This clean energy source has come down in price, with a guaranteed return on investment. In 2014, we installed a solar system on the Eagle River Center, making it the county’s first “Net Zero” building. Solar arrays on the county administration buildings soon followed. This year, we are upping the ante by purchasing a 1 megawatt community solar array, which will offset one-third of the county’s electricity needs and provide a return on investment for years to come. So, we’re going to make that “15 by 15” goal and are now setting our sights on an equally ambitious goal for 2020.

We all want to do our part. We recycle, drive fuel-efficient cars and turn off the lights when we leave the room, but did you know there are huge energy savings and reductions in CO2 emissions to be gained by fixing a leaky home or business? In 2012, Eagle County developed Energy Smart Colorado with Pitkin and Gunnison counties. Energy Smart Colorado can provide a low-cost energy assessment of your home or business, help you find qualified contractors and assist with rebates, financing and tax credits for your project. Adding more insulation in your attic or sealing cracks you cannot see may be all you need to realize the savings. Your home may be a bigger culprit of carbon emissions than your car! Walking Mountain Science Center administers Energy Smart locally, so give them a call at 970-328-8777.

Eagle County is a model and leader in Actively Green endeavors, and we will continue to do our part. We invite you to let us know what strategies you’re using and how we might help. We wish you all a happy Earth Week!

Kathy Chandler-Henry, Jill Ryan and Jeanne McQueeney are the Eagle County commissioners.


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