WESTERN SAN JUANS – Only 20 percent of the greenhouse gas produced by San Miguel and Ouray Counties comes from tailpipe emissions, while 63 percent comes from our buildings’ energy usage.
This was the surprising conclusion of a recent greenhouse gas inventory conducted by the University of Colorado at Denver’s Center for Sustainable Infrastructure Systems, through the auspices of the Telluride-based organization, The New Community Coalition.
Turns out, if enough of us were to invest in a tube of caulk, install programmable thermostats or buy a batch of new lightbulbs to make our homes and businesses more energy efficient, we could significantly downsize our region’s carbon footprint.
Over the past year, a dozen businesses and nonprofits in Telluride, Mountain Village, Norwood, Ridgway, and Ouray have set out to prove this point through their participation in the Main Street Efficiency Initiative, a Governor’s Energy Office grant program administered locally by TNCC, which just wrapped up earlier this month.
Starting in February 2011, participants learned how to review and track their utility bills each month using free downloadable GreenQuest software, then based on the results of this data underwent energy and/or lighting audits and implemented various energy efficiency improvements, many of which were partially refunded through $12,700 worth of rebates from the Governor’s Energy Office and San Miguel Power Association.
Now the participants are enjoying a combined $27,000 in annual savings on their utility bills – and the satisfaction of having put a big dent in the region’s Co2 emissions levels.
“The resulting carbon footprint reduction is about 65 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year – the equivalent of driving a Subaru from Telluride to Denver every day of the year,” TNCC’s Kim Wheels said.
MSEI participants included RIGS Fly Shop and the Second Chance thrift shop in Ridgway, the Uncompahgre Medical Center in Norwood, the Wright Opera House in Ouray, Bootdoctors in Mountain Village, and in Telluride, the Sheridan Opera House, Picaya, Christ Presbyterian Church, the Wine Mine, the Elks Lodge, Ah Haa School for the Arts, and Telluride Trappings & Toggery. Energy and lighting audits were conducted by Senter Lane Inspections (Alan Senter, Ouray), Lotus Energy Solutions (Kim Wheels, Ophir) and enLIGHTen, LLC (Chris Myers, Telluride).
TNCC was formed in 2007 to implement sustainability efforts in San Miguel County but has since expanded its mission to encompass Ouray County as well, coordinating and managing efforts that contribute to balanced regional sustainability. Wheels serves as TNCC’s regional lynchpin and Community Energy Coordinator. As such, she stressed that the MSEI business efficiency grant project would not have been possible without the Western San Juan Community Energy Board (WSJCEB), a collaborative partnership of Ouray County and San Miguel County formed to support TNCC’s Energy Efficiency Community Block Grant from the GEO. This group of elected officials, government staff, utility staff, and community members has been meeting monthly over the past two years to develop and implement a regional Sustainability Action Plan whose overall objective is to reduce per capita energy consumption in Ouray and San Miguel Counties by 20 percent from 2010 levels by 2020.
“The MSEI grant participant successes are steps toward helping us meet our regional energy use reduction goals,” Wheels said. “The program is just one of several examples in which the regional partnership of the WSJCEB enabled TNCC to apply for and administer a grant that would otherwise not have been feasible in a smaller community.”
Administering these kinds of programs is the easy part, Wheels said. The hard part is convincing people why they should participate. “You can educate people all you want, but education and financial benefit alone will not spur people to change their habits. It’s a challenge, getting people to take the initiative and want to make a change.”
Whether driven by a desire to improve their bottom line or to save the planet, MSEI participants have been surprised and impressed by the results of their endeavor.
The Second Chance Humane Society’s thrift shop in Ridgway underwent a lighting audit with enLIGHTen, and as a result changed out every lighting fixture in the store. “Our thrift shop was full of a number of antiquated fluorescent 40 watt tubes,” said SCHS treasurer Dick Caldwell. “We replaced them with more efficient electronic ballasts and with the benefit of SMPA rebates were able to purchase 10 LED tubes. We actually increased the amount of lighting in selected areas but we’ll enjoy dollar savings on the order of $500 or $600 a year because we’re using much less energy.”
As an added benefit, the new lighting makes the interior of the store – which has always felt rather cave-like – a more pleasant place to shop and work. “It’s a much warmer light,” Caldwell said. “The LEDs are more comfortable on the eyes and much brighter. Some of our work areas have been greatly enhanced.”
Caldwell said he was surprised at how comprehensive the lighting audit was. “Chris (Meyers of enLIGHTen) was great to work with; he looked at it from a standpoint of what would the space be used for, and came back with a proposal that was very detailed and fine tuned. There’s a lot of logic into what type of lighting went where.”
Bootdoctors, a ski outfitter business with storefronts in Telluride and Mountain Village, underwent an extensive energy audit at its Mountain Village location, conducted by Alan Senter of Senter Lane Inspections. Senter went over the building with a fine-toothed comb, looking not only at ways to make Bootdoctor’s lighting more efficient, but also its heating system and building envelope.
“It gave us a great perspective where to start,” said Becky Reimann, Bootdoctors’ manager and designated point person for the MSEI project.
Based on the results of the energy audit, Reimann and her team implemented basic energy efficiency measures throughout the sprawling store, like sealing up obvious holes and gaps with foam and calk to make it more airtight, hanging some curtains to address air flow issues and changing out some of the old lighting. They also installed a whopping 18 programmable thermostats throughout the building.
Programmable thermostats regulate the temperature of a building in a way that makes sense for its usage. For Bootdoctors, that meant warmer temperatures during business hours and cooler temperatures at night when the building is unoccupied.
After factoring in a $100 rebate, Bootdoctors spent $400 out-of-pocket for the thermostats. Reimann expects to recap this investment plus other energy audit expenditures “within two years max,” with projected energy savings.
Bootdoctors was also inspired by its participation in MSEI to initiate a commercial recycling program in Mountain Village, including a pilot project recycling skis and ski boots, in collaboration with S.U.N.R.I.S.E., a local privately owned recycling company, and Bruin Waste Management.
“To be honest, the recycling part was the most challenging,” said Reimann. “It took a little longer to do all of that than I thought, but I feel good about what we’ve accomplished.”
Wheels points to such MSEI success stories as an example of “why individual actions are so important to us for reaching regional goals,” and said she hopes more businesses and individuals will now be inspired to get involved in TNCC’s new 2012 EcoAction Initiative.
Over the past few years, the Initiative has been targeted at residential entities. Now, with the conclusion of the MSEI, it’s expanding its scope to include businesses as well.
Participants sign up with a TNCC mentor for a site visit and learn specific and simple changes to increase energy efficiency and decrease their household or business carbon footprint.
“It is a powerful tool to help us reach our regional energy goals,” Wheels said. “We encourage everyone to participate.”
For more information, visit www.newcommunitycoalition.org/