Sustainability director retires as two major projects near completion

Community renewable energy program, legislation top accomplishment list

Solar panels line the roof of the Summit County Health Department.
Courtesy of Summit County

When Lisa Yoder started as Summit County’s sustainability director, one of the biggest issues on her plate was managing the community garden program.

“I used to laugh because when I started, I covered everything from sheep grazing to solar,” Yoder said in an interview.

She soon rewrote the county’s sustainability strategic plan, winnowing her responsibilities to focus on County Council goals in areas where she had experience, including reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Yoder is retiring at the end of this month after eight years in the role and leaves the county government in a position where it will soon use 100% renewable energy for its power needs, almost all residents will soon have the option to buy power from renewable resources and dozens, if not hundreds, of solar panel systems adorn local roofs.

Yoder is the first to acknowledge that she didn’t accomplish any of these initiatives alone, but County Manager Tom Fisher said Yoder’s ability to cultivate relationships with a diverse array of partners has helped make the county’s sustainability goals a reality.

Summit County Sustainability Director Lisa Yoder is retiring at the end of this month. She said one of her proudest accomplishments from eight years with the county is the community renewable energy program that may soon enable residents to opt for a renewable source of energy.
Courtesy of Summit County

“She’s very good at her job,” Fisher said in an interview. “She is certainly not loud or boisterous in doing that. But the way that she uses resources or joins together with resources that are out in our community, out in the state, out nationally, to help achieve the county’s goals, has been remarkable.”

Summit County is involved in two ongoing large-scale renewable energy projects, one that would supply renewable energy for its own energy use and another that would give county residents the option to purchase renewable energy.

The county is certainly not the largest player involved in those talks, which also include Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Ogden, Vail Resorts, Park City and others.

But Yoder has ensured Summit County has been involved in these discussions. She has also communicated updates to each of the five eastern Summit County cities, four of which opted into the program to soon offer their citizens renewably sourced power.

Yoder joined the county in 2013 with experience collaborating with firms ranging from utility companies to sustainability nonprofits. She said she’d worked on energy efficiency, alternative fuels and transportation issues.

Summit County was a different place when she was hired, she said.

“We didn’t utter the word ‘climate change’ when I started,” Yoder said. “Electric vehicles weren’t even heard of back then. … Now we have climate goals (and) emission reduction goals that are very aggressive.”

She changed the county’s subsequent sustainability strategic plans to focus on areas she knew could affect change.

“I took it to a very narrow focus with big impact,” she said.

The Snyderville Basin Recreation District took over a lot of the land management work, she said, and the Planning Department took on work involving public land initiatives.

Fisher credited her with authoring the county’s current sustainability program and pushing the county toward achieving its climate goals.

Yoder said the work is far from finished and that it would be up to incoming Sustainability Director Emily Quinton to bring in fresh ideas.

Yoder identified transportation and energy efficiency as two key remaining challenges, but said many of the more obvious solutions have already been implemented, like adding solar arrays to seven county buildings and installing energy-efficient light bulbs.

“We’re going to have to find a different way to heat our buildings,” Yoder said, adding that the current reliance on natural gas still contributes to the county’s greenhouse gas emissions.

She had hoped to study the county’s vehicle usage to reduce its climate impact, but that project was delayed by the pandemic and the loss of a sustainability analyst position, which has not been filled.

Yoder said her proudest accomplishment from her time working for Summit County was probably the 2019 state legislation establishing the burgeoning community renewable energy project. That resulted in a coalition of nearly 25 communities working to provide their residents the option to purchase renewable energy. It covers more than a third of the state’s energy use and about 850,000 residents, officials have said.

“It’s about five years in the making,” Yoder said. “And it’s not done.” She added that she was confident in her successor’s skills and the County Council’s support for sustainability initiatives.

She also touted the program to secure renewable sources for the county’s energy use, as well as the electric vehicle charging infrastructure the county has installed.

She said she didn’t know what she’d do next, but that she didn’t lack for passions to pursue, including photography and community service. Reached on a beach late last year with her dogs in the background playing in the surf, Yoder said she’d look to relax for a few months and allow her future plans to percolate.

“My pie in the sky idea is that ‘sustainability,’ or how people view sustainability as an economic, environmental and social concern — that that be pervasive throughout every department and every employee, so that a sustainability person isn’t even required,” Yoder said.

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