Vail Daily column: For our community, country and planet, we are still in | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: For our community, country and planet, we are still in

Eagle County Board of Commissioners
Valley Voices
Jill Ryan, Kathy Chandler-Henry, Jeanne McQueeney
Special to the Daily |

There were many reactions across the country and around the world when the president announced his intent to back out of the Paris Climate Accord. While this news is disappointing, it also provides opportunity to reexamine our own values, as well as the commitments outlined in our organization’s environmental policy and the Climate Action Plan for the Eagle County Community. Our conclusion? We are still in it.

Our community and economy rely upon a robust snowfall and healthy snowpack. Either directly or indirectly, we’re all “snow farmers” in one way or another. Many of us live for big powder days, and we want to be able to share the joy of floating through deep, light snow with our kids and future generations. That snow on the mountains fuels our economic engine and then melts to fill our local streams and rivers, irrigate our fields and power our summer recreation economy. Climate change threatens all of this and more.

Last year, Eagle County joined a broad consortium of local towns, organizations and businesses in adopting the Eagle County Climate Action Plan. The first major benchmark of this plan is to achieve a 25 percent greenhouse gas reduction by 2025. Reaching this goal through energy efficiency and local renewable energy will not only benefit our environment, but will keep $60 million in our community each year that would otherwise go to electricity, natural gas and fuel companies operating outside of Eagle County. This year, we’re partnering with Climate Action Plan implementation teams to move these strategies forward.

On May 19, Eagle County, along with Vail, Avon, Minturn, Eagle, Basalt and 27 other communities, signed the Compact for Colorado Communities, which aims to leverage partner resources, build capacity and develop clean energy initiatives across the state. At the compact’s core is a foundational belief at odds with the misconceptions behind the Paris backout — that climate action somehow creates an undue burden on the economy and threatens jobs.

To the contrary, our experience at the county is that climate action initiatives are some the smartest things we can do for job growth, economic development, resiliency, energy independence and business sector competitiveness. Here are some examples:

• Eagle County’s investments in building efficiency and solar investments are saving more than $500,000 per year in operating costs, putting the county in a better financial position to use those taxpayer dollars to meet other community needs.

• In the past five years, Energy Smart Colorado completed 2,896 energy upgrades, which injected $23,747,003 directly into local rural communities through jobs for projects with direct economic and safety benefits.

• Xcel Energy’s 600-megawatt Rush Creek wind project will inject more than $1 billion into the economy, along with 370 construction jobs. Once completed, it will save ratepayers $32 million per year and provide $180 million per year in land-lease payments to rural Coloradans.

• While the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources has log been a challenge, innovation in battery technology and manufacturing is making energy storage costs competitive. Tucson Energy’s 100-megawatt solar-plus-storage power purchase agreement locking in costs at 4.5 cents per kilowatt hour for more than 20 years is an example of how renewable energy plus storage is already reaching wholesale cost parity.

• According to the Department of Energy, solar jobs grew 25 percent last year, and there are now twice as many solar jobs in the United States, 374,000, than coal and natural gas combined at 187,000.

While some may say that we can’t afford a clean-energy future, economic and environmental trends suggest the opposite — we can’t afford not to invest in these opportunities that benefit both our economy and our environment.

Please join us by taking the Climate Action Pledge at http://www.eaglecounty.us/cap and learn more about how you can participate. For our community, our country and our planet, we are still in it.

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

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