Ryland French and Chris Menges Rally the City for the Aspen Climate
City of Aspen employees Ryland French and Chris Menges delivering the energy-efficiency goods during the Aspen Energy Challenge.

The City of Aspen and the Community Office for Resource Efficiency are pleased to announce that the organizations helped facilitate $1.6 million in energy savings in the community, compared to a 2013 through 2014 baseline in partnership Holy Cross Energy and Black Hills Energy.  From 2015 through 2016, these organizations provided education, rebates, subsidized energy assessments, and free energy advising to homeowners, renters, property managers, businesses, the Aspen School District, and the City’s own facilities to employ energy efficiency measures and reduce gas and electric use.

Through a program called The Aspen Energy Challenge, these organizations rallied the community to reduce its carbon footprint, save energy, and help Aspen move toward its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2050 from a 2004 baseline. This is a goal the community and the City of Aspen committed to in 2007 in Aspen’s first Climate Action Plan.

“Our community’s response to the Aspen Energy Challenge was inspiring,” said Ryland French, resource efficiency specialist for the City of Aspen.  “It really speaks to the passion people have for their environment, whether it is their home or business, their community, or mother nature. We heard from participants that they are motivated to save energy in many ways. The obvious reason is serious money savings, but our participants also recognize the benefits of improving the comfort and safety of their homes, going green, and being a part of a community effort.”

Over the course of the Aspen Energy Challenge, improvements were made to 400 affordable housing rental units, and CORE experienced a 50% increase in residential energy upgrade rebates and a doubling of the number of home energy assessments. Cumulatively, a 5% reduction in residential energy use per account was measured for both Black Hills Energy gas customers and Aspen Electric customers. This was made possible by the 900 direct participants whose actions ranged from installing LED bulbs to upgrading their heating system, as well as the thousands of residents who engaged with the Aspen Energy Challenge team to learn simple ways to save, such as replacing their furnace filters or setting their hot water heaters to 120 degrees. In addition, the City of Aspen government and the Aspen School District collectively cut their Holy Cross Energy electricity usage by 6%, producing $54,000 in annual savings for the Aspen School District.

“By collaborating with the City, we experienced an incredible increase in community participation — doubling our numbers during the Energy Challenge and then gaining 47% new participants the following year,” said Mona Newton, Executive Director of CORE. “We want to see that kind of response in the future; it’s key to meeting our climate goals.”

The City of Aspen and CORE have offered efficiency programs since 2006, helping utility customers in Aspen and beyond save energy and money. Over the eight years of 2006 through 2014, 600 energy upgrades and assessments were completed in Aspen, compared to an incredible 315 in just the two years of the Aspen Energy Challenge.

The Aspen Energy Challenge campaign was created in tandem with Aspen’s entry into the Georgetown University Energy Prize (GUEP) competition in 2014.  Aspen was one of 50 communities competing for a $5 million prize for the town that achieved the greatest energy savings from innovative and replicable programs. The City of Aspen was in second place when the last update from GUEP was received in March 2016.  Over 18 months later, after hearing no subsequent ranking updates from the Prize organizers, Aspen was informed in mid-November that it is not a top finalist.

“It is disappointing and confounding, but it may be for the best considering the GUEP’s shortcomings around communication, credibility, and the disappearance of the Prize,” French remarked.

On October 1, 2017 GUEP announced that it is no longer offering a $5 million prize to the winning community, but instead will offer the winner assistance in securing $5 million in loans to fund an energy efficiency project.

“We suspected something was amiss after communication from GUEP diminished as 2016 closed and the Prize organizers began deviating from their own timelines and commitments,” French added. “While these recent updates from GUEP are disappointing, Aspen has achieved incredible savings as a community, not to mention the human energy focused on reducing our carbon footprint. The City and its partners are encouraged and grateful to all the residents and businesses who worked to increase their energy efficiency. We still have ambitious but attainable goals to achieve in this Valley, and we will continue to aggressively pursue large greenhouse gas reductions as a City and community.”

Building on the momentum of the Aspen Energy Challenge, in 2017, the City and CORE, with support from their utility partners, created the High Five, a local social movement inviting residents from Aspen to Glenwood Springs to take action on the environment by saving energy. The effort brought in 47% new participants and expanded outreach efforts to include the entire valley. To date, more than 500 people have taken the High Five pledge to save energy and have registered almost 1,400 energy-saving actions. Other successful aspects of the Aspen Energy Challenge were replicated in 2017, including expansion of the City’s water conservation programs, which saw a great response to free irrigation efficiency assessments from homeowners.

In 2018, the City of Aspen will advance other new and expanded programs and policies identified in its updated Climate Action Plan, to be released next month. These initiatives have been prioritized for the next 3-5 years by a diverse group of local stakeholders. Examples include transitioning to more efficient heating equipment in businesses and homes, using more renewable energy to power that equipment, increasing the adoption of electric vehicles by individuals and fleets, participating in the coalition of counties and municipalities known as Colorado Communities for Climate Action, and reducing the volumes of construction, demolition and food waste being sent to the Pitkin County Landfill.

“We invite community members of all types to get involved. Local action paired with our local government and business leaders advocating for climate action at the state and national level is how we win this fight against climate change,” said French.

To participate in any of the City’s or its partners efficiency programs, check out the City of Aspen Climate Action Office website.