TELLURIDE – The San Miguel County Commissioners inched closer to their goal of reducing regional greenhouse gas emissions Wednesday, agreeing to send a question to the November ballot asking voters to reinstate a 1 percent tax on residential utility bills. Revenue from the tax, if approved, would be used to fund greenhouse gas reduction programs.
The tax tweak would amend the 1987 sales and use tax exemption on the sale of electricity, coal, wood, gas, fuel oil and coke. Early estimates indicate the tax would generate $150,000 in new revenues annually. While the ballot question does not specify exactly how the new revenues would be allocated, it says the money will fund efforts that reduce greenhouse gas emissions in San Miguel County.
“The requirements for the new revenues are that they be used for projects or capital to reduce emissions. They could fund programs to retrofit homes and buildings to make them more efficient, or they could be used to purchase solar panels,” said Commissioner Joan May.
May added that so far, much of the effort by local governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has been centered on government’s own facilities and operations. Such sources account for about 6 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in San Miguel County. The next step, she said, is to enable citizens outside of government to lower energy use. May said she agreed with Mountain Village Mayor Dan Jansen’s declaration that governments in the region must lead by example.
“We have to do all we can do before asking citizens to step up and do more to reduce energy use,” said May.
Telluride Town Councilor Chris Myer attended Wednesday’s commissioners meeting to offer his support. He said that, if passed, the tax could have positive effects on the community by discouraging taxpayers from using utilities wastefully.
Kris Holstrom, executive director of EcoAction Partners, a local nonprofit that assists organizations and governments with implementing sustainable practices and policies, applauds the ballot measure.
“This is something we’ve been working on for seven years,” said Holstrom. “I think anything that increases the tools available to make real change in reducing carbon footprints is a good thing.”
EcoAction Partners secured a grant four years ago from the Federal Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grant to form the Western San Juan Community Energy Board and to hire Community Energy Coordinator Kim Wheels. The board produced an inventory of energy use for the region, as well as Energy Action Plans for each local government.
Telluride, Mountain Village and San Miguel County each has an Energy Action Coordinator on the Western San Juan Community Energy Board who has developed and implemented energy reduction programs for each local government. As a result, local governments have significantly reduced their organizations’ energy use.
As part of its effort, the county has significantly lowered energy use through facility retrofits, constructing green buildings, using hybrid vehicles and encouraging employees to minimize energy use. The county also annually contributes over $235,000 to commuter bus programs that bring workers from as far away as Norwood, Ridgway, and Montrose to Telluride, reducing vehicle greenhouse gas emissions.
At an intergovernmental meeting in May, Wheels presented the regional energy inventory, showing that residential and commercial buildings are the biggest energy users in our region, followed by travel, food, and waste. Local government representatives at the meeting committed to taking the next step in reducing regional greenhouse gas emissions by seeking the means to implement measurable programs.