WESTERN SAN JUANS – The Telluride-based group EcoAction Partners (formerly The New Community Coalition) has played a key regional role in rallying community governments to reduce energy consumption.
Now, with state grant funding in support of some of its efforts having come to an end, EcoAction Partners is approaching the communities it serves, asking them to step up their financial contributions to keep the green ball rolling.
Kim Wheels, Community Energy Coordinator with EcoAction Partners, met with community governments in Ouray County and San Miguel County in late September and early October as they entered into their budget planning season for 2013, asking each government to bump up its financial contribution to help support her position through 2013.
Wheels described herself as a “change agent” who has helped to coordinate, encourage, convince, and facilitate regional sustainability planning over the past two years.
Her CEC position was initially created and funded through a $65,000 Energy Efficiency Community Block Grant received from the Colorado Governor’s Energy Office in 2010, which provided for a two-year position that expired in March of this year.
One of Wheels’s jobs as CEC has been to coordinate regional participation in the statewide Main Street Efficiency Initiative. With her help and oversight, a dozen businesses and nonprofits in Telluride, Mountain Village, Norwood, Ridgway and Ouray learned how to review and track their utility bills each month using free online 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. Some participants received additional lighting rebates from 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.
Another of Wheels’s tasks since 2009 has been to play a leadership role in the Western San Juan Community Energy Board, an entity made up of designated Energy Action Coordinators from Telluride, Mountain Village, Ridgway, Ouray, Norwood, San Miguel and Ouray counties, as well as San Miguel Power Association and SourceGas representatives, which met every three weeks over a period of two years to develop a collaborative energy action plan for the region. The group’s genesis was the award of a federal grant made available through American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funds in 2009. The New Community Coalition/EcoAction Partners administered that grant.
The WSJCEB Regional Action Plan is not binding and merely provides a roadmap for the region as a whole. It lays out several ambitious targets, including a decrease in per capita energy consumption in San Miguel and Ouray counties by 20 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels; obtaining 20 percent of the region’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020; reducing the overall amount of energy consumed per capita by ground and air travel; and diverting 75 percent of overall waste from landfills by 2020.
Each community has outlined its own specific actions for how to achieve these goals, and an important part of Wheels’s job has been to help communities find ways to follow through on those actions.
Wheels, in her appeal to the communities for funding, stressed the accomplishments of the WSJCEB over the past year, including:
• Regional Action Plan prioritization and development of energy plans by local Energy Action Coordinators, Greenhouse Gas Inventory data gathering and further analysis of utility data (electric, gas, and water) in each jurisdiction;
• Water conservation plans and grant opportunities, and a presentation by Colorado Water Conservation Board staff to discuss feasibility and benefits of developing a regional plan;
• Comparison of energy data management software options to simplify data entry and improve analysis options by all Energy Action Coordinators;
• Improved communication with SMPA and SourceGas, with both entities now providing annual updates on utility information for Greenhouse Gas Inventory and other requests as needed.
• Ouray/Ridgway collaboration on energy audits of buildings, water and wastewater plants;
• GEO technical assistance with microhydro projects in Ouray, and expedited process through FERC.
Wheels is also ushering in an employee efficiency program with regional government jurisdictions this fall, “to get staff members to take actions at work that are more conservation minded and take those ideas home with them.”
The idea is simple: governments clean up their own act and set an example for the communities they serve.
Being part of a regional group such as WSJCEB gives individual municipalities and counties greater political clout when it comes to shaping statewide energy policy matters, and positions them more favorably to win grants to help implement regional energy reduction goals. Thus it makes sense, Wheels argued, for jurisdictions to pool their resources together to support her position.
The draft 2013 budget for the CEC position calls for a total $42,500 expenditure, including $32,500 for Wheels’s job as part-time Community Energy Coordinator, $5,000 in additional EcoAction Partners staff time and various other travel and office expenses.
Wheels, in her request to local governments, asked for $5,000 each from the City of Ouray and the Town of Ridgway, $1,000 from Ouray County and $3,500 from the Town of Norwood. San Miguel County, and the Town of Telluride were each asked to contribute $50,000 in total EcoAction Partners government funding requests, with $10,000 from each entity going toward the funding of the CEC budget. The Town of Mountain Village was asked to contribute $40,000 total with $8,000 of that funneled into the CEC position.
Her budget request to Ouray and Ridgway represented a big jump; each jurisdiction has been paying only $1,000 annually to support her position and the work of the WSJCEB. Now, they are being asked to contribute five times that much.
In spite of the jump, it is still a vastly inequitable split in payment, compared to what Telluride, Mountain Village and San Miguel County are being asked to contribute to Eco Action Partners as a whole, with a portion of that funding going to Wheels’ CEC position.
“More contributions will be needed to spread my effort evenly,” Wheels said.
It remains to be seen whether the local governments will jump at the chance to grant her request.
“EcoAction Partners clearly understands that government budgets are tight and that contributing the full requested amount may not be feasible for all jurisdictions,” Wheels acknowledged in a letter to the jurisdictions. “However, we do want to portray an accurate picture of the resources that it takes to provide CEC services throughout the region at the level established through the GEO grant, and initially request an amount reflecting that value.”