Summit County plans to clean up its act
March 9, 2012
Change is in the air. Summit County, home to Park City, three ski resorts, and more than 600 farms, has set out to shrink its emission of carbon dioxide and other harmful greenhouse gases by 13 percent by the end of next year.
"We are, essentially, a weather-based economy," Summit County Councilmember Sally Elliott said in a telephone interview. "If climate changes, then it affects our economy — the agriculture and the skiing."
Last year, the council commissioned the Brendle Group, a sustainability consulting firm based in Fort Collins, Colo., to study the county’s carbon output. It found that in 2009, the county emitted more than 1.62 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to each of the county’s 40,000, year-round residents driving from Kimball Junction to Salt Lake City and back, four times per day, every day for one year, according to the Summit County Sustainability Office.
"Our consumption is comparable with other resort communities," Summit County sustainability coordinator Ashley Koehler said. "But for a full-time community of our size, we’re pretty carbon-intensive."
Koehler helped develop a "Sustainability Initiative" for the county, which the council adopted in November. It includes a "Roadmap to Reduction" – benchmarks set by the council for reducing the county’s carbon footprint.
"We looked at some projections, communities that had done similar initiatives, and found ones that met realistic expectations," Koehler said.
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The roadmap’s goals are wide-ranging, from increasing renewable energy generation by 100 kilowatts, to creating disincentives for heated driveways, weatherizing county-owned buildings, and making sure that county employees abide by any in-house sustainability initiatives. Many also relate to reducing fuel consumption, such as by converting the county’s vehicle fleet to hybrid, electric and bio-diesel cars and buses.
"When fuel prices vary by 25 to 30 percent, it’s hard to stay in your fuel budget," Summit County Public Works director Kevin Callahan said. "There are things we can do — consolidate vehicles, use them more efficiently, use bio-fuels."
The potential savings, however, remain uncertain. Koehler and other officials declined to speculate how much the county could trim from its budget by implementing the sustainability plan. "We haven’t done a full project on finding savings," she said.
County Manager Bob Jasper asked the council to appropriate more than $182,000 for sustainability in 2012 – a decrease from more than $328,000 last year, according to the county budget. Meanwhile, the Brendle Group’s greenhouse gas study, Koehler stated, cost slightly more than $10,000.
Koehler noted, however, that the county has already reaped savings from some of the sustainability initiatives that are already underway. "Looking at the retrofits we’ve done by adding fluorescent lighting, adding insulation to buildings, we’ve saved quite a bit of money," Koehler said. "From 2009 to 2010, we saved about $10,000 on our electricity usage. We’re pretty proud of that."
Jasper pointed to the Summit County Beef program, started in the spring of 2010, which offers financial incentives to Summit County cattle farmers who sell their beef to county restaurants and stores, rather than shipping them to faraway buyers.
"Instead of sending them a long ways, you can get beef, which is grass-fed, too," Jasper said. "It helps reduce the greenhouse gases, it helps the rancher side of our economy, and it helps the resort side of our economy."
Koehler said that she will present quarterly updates on the sustainability initiative to the county council. To read the sustainability plan online, plus the results of the greenhouse gas study, visit http://www.co.summit.ut.us/sustainability.