On Feb. 13, the Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution committing the community to using 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.
The resolution is similar to the one passed by the town of Breckenridge back in November, which also committed to getting all energy from renewable sources by 2035. By passing the resolution, Summit joins other Colorado counties and towns going fully renewable, including Aspen, Avon, Boulder, Lafeyette, Longmont, Nederland and Pueblo. Larger cities outside the state have also committed, including Atlanta, Orlando, Salt Lake City and San Francisco.
County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier felt the issue was of the utmost importance to the county, given the alarming new data about climate change.
"The projections for climate change show that it is much more accelerated than previous models have shown," Stiegelmeier said. "We're already seeing it with these shorter, warmer winters. Climate change will have a frightening impact for our economy and our lifestyle."
Stiegelmeier also noted the political climate in Washington, and how it put the onus on communities to take initiative. "At the federal level, they're going in the opposite direction on climate change, so it comes down to local government taking action."
The text of the resolution explicitly refers to climate change as a threat to the local community, noting that "a warming climate is expected to have various adverse local effects such as shortening our ski season, reducing annual snowpack, increasing drought conditions, decreasing water supplies and making our forests more prone to wildfire, while also presenting a variety of other threats on a global scale."
The commissioners passed the resolution after attending the Colorado Community Symposium conference in Denver, where local and state elected officials met and discussed collaboration with business leaders and innovators involved in producing renewable energy technology.
Commissioner Dan Gibbs said the conference was very informative, and spurred the commissioners in taking an affirmative step in the right direction.
"When you look at Summit County, enhancing and protecting the environment is one of the best ways to protect our economy," Gibbs said. "Moving towards 100 percent renewable energy by 2035 is not only an important goal benefiting this generation and future generations in Summit."
When it comes to specifics, Gibbs noted that one way the county can reduce its carbon footprint is upgrading the public bus fleet.
"Our bus fleet is all diesel," Gibbs said, "but there's technology out there for eco-friendly electric buses. Aside from cutting fossil fuels, there are also less moving parts involved in electric vehicles, making them cheaper to maintain. That makes great economic sense."
County manager Scott Vargo noted that the resolution is a non-binding community commitment, and will not require county government, homeowners or private businesses to purchase or upgrade electrical systems. The county will instead work with energy companies like Xcel to get them to switch more and more to renewable energy and away from fossil-fuel-based energy sources.
"Our primary objective is to try to influence change and cooperate with Xcel to modify the way they generate power," Vargo said. "Within the last several months, Xcel has offered their support for the initiative. There has been an effort on Xcel's part to increase the amount of renewable energy they're producing in the state."
The resolution has some caveats and exceptions to the goal, such as reserving the right to modify the commitment if consumer costs increase.
Section 2 of the resolution reads, "Should the county determine that customer utility costs have or are projected to increase at an unacceptable rate because of a transition to renewable energy, the county may modify this resolution and the goal…"
"We don't want this effort to result in significant price increases to consumers where they see their energy bill go up dramatically," Vargo said. "We want to make sure that the types of changes and investments made by Xcel are good, sound investments so we don't see significant changes to what rate payers are absorbing."
As to why Summit is passing the resolution now, Gibbs said progressive change is oftentimes led by local government.
"Sometimes government has to take the lead on taking these steps," Gibbs said. "We hope the private sector will follow, because research shows that switching to renewables makes good economic sense."
The resolution does not set a timeline for milestones or goals, and planning for the initiative has not yet begun.