Summit County’s new sustainability energy and data analyst crunches the numbers on climate change
Darcy Glenn’s big request for Christmas was heavy fabric so she could hang drapes in her house.
Glenn is the newest member of Summit County’s sustainability office and she says it’s surprising how much drapes can do to stop heat escaping in the winter.
“Insulating your house is — it’s not sexy, but it’s one of the best things you can do,” she said.
Glenn works as an energy and data analyst trying to find ways to reduce the county’s greenhouse gas emissions, energy use and energy costs by doing things like studying how many miles vehicles travel and finding ways to build sustainability into future plans.
“I’m the one who gets to crunch all the numbers,” she said.
She started the full-time position in September after a little more than a year doing similar work for Park City. She said the position’s cost might be offset by her first big project, conducting a vehicle fleet utilization study and finding ways to reduce costs for things like fuel and maintenance.
“If you could make all vehicles (electric) and pair that with 100% renewable electricity, that would be the easiest way,” she said. “However, currently there’s a lack in the market for EV (electric vehicles) we need. They don’t have EV versions of bulldozers. They don’t have economical versions of trucks.
It’s a pretty big roadblock.”
Glenn, 28, majored in physics and math at the University of Vermont and received a master’s degree in climate change from University College London which, she jokes, “turns out is a real school, not something trying to sound like a school.”
Her office at the Summit County Health Department building in Round Valley has big windows and she uses its three screens to display the data she analyzes.
A whiteboard on one wall has the months of the year written across the top with color-coded projects in big boxes, sometimes spanning a few months each, like “greenhouse gas inventory” and “strategic plan.”
Big energy goals are written on the left-hand side, with reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80% countywide (by 2050) at the top and reducing the government’s greenhouse gas emissions by the same percentage 10 years earlier underneath.
The county is also working toward 100% renewable energy use by 2030 and, according to its sustainability website, another goal is to transition 50% of fleet vehicles to alternative fuels, hybrid or electric vehicles by 2022.
Glenn breaks down the county’s greenhouse gas sources into three categories: scope one, which is anything burned on site like natural gas to heat a building or diesel fuel to power a vehicle; scope two, electricity use; and scope three, anything outside of the county that it’s directly responsible for, like workers’ commutes or travel to conferences.
She carries around a well-worn card that displays a breakdown of the county’s greenhouse gas emissions by source. It shows that buildings account for 38% of the output while transportation accounts for nearly half.
Glenn said county sustainability manager Lisa Yoder has already done a great job with the low-hanging fruit like switching over to LED light bulbs, which, while a welcome improvement, makes Glenn’s job “all the more challenging.”
Glenn is concentrating on creating efficiencies in the vehicle fleet, but she mentioned some other large-scale projects that could have a positive impact.
If employees worked remotely one day per week, for example, it would cut the carbon impact of their commute by 20 percent. There are a number of positions that couldn’t use that idea, like snow removers, fire fighters or Sheriff’s Office deputies, but trending in that direction by encouraging things like teleconferencing could minimize the county’s carbon footprint. She added that many organizations don’t take into account externalities like employees’ commutes when considering their environmental impact.
Buildings that retain their temperature through insulation or design help lower energy use and reduce scope one and scope two emissions, Glenn said, but that requires more than just heavy drapes. Insulation is very expensive to add after a building has been built, she said, but can be cost effective if included during construction. Some new zoning regulations include language about environmental standards, but the county is limited in how stringent its standards can be compared to those used by the state.
She said the facilities department has been helpful in working to achieve sustainability goals and is helping with the effort to install a more efficient heating and cooling system for the Summit County Justice Center.
Upfront costs can be discouraging for sustainability efforts even if the benefits pay for themselves over the long run, like installing a solar array on a private home, Glenn said. The sustainability office looks for alternative funding sources like grants to help get the project off the ground.
Glenn is also encouraged by the county’s proposed new neighborhood-mixed use zone that might reduce reliance on automobiles by incorporating transit and putting businesses next to residences.
“All of a sudden, those people don’t need to drive for all their basic needs,” Glenn said. “If you have all commercial, everyone’s driving there and you have to assume residential is somewhere else outside. (And) residential without transit, assume they’re driving between work, picking up groceries, dropping kids off at daycare.”
She said she has enough numbers to work with, but she’s always looking for more. She added that local energy utilities Dominion Energy and Rocky Mountain Power have been very forthcoming in providing the data she’s asked for.
Glenn said the most exciting thing she’s seen recently is how her county colleagues are approaching her office about incorporating sustainability into their work. For example, senior transportation planner Jamie Dansie is working on a 10-year transportation plan and asked the sustainability department if it had a wish list to include and for figures about ozone pollution.
“The tide is starting to kind of turn where we don’t have to be the people reaching out to other departments, other departments are reaching out to sustainability,” she said. “That’s probably the most exciting thing — it’s a wave change.”
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