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The clean-energy transition: exciting, spectacularly worth it

By June 16, 2023October 31st, 2023No Comments

By Dave Reed

My car is a plug-in hybrid: it has a battery that enables the car to run on electricity and it also has a conventional engine that runs on gas. I can plug ‘er in as well as fill ‘er up.

It’s a halfway technology, but it works for me at this point in time. I much prefer the electric drive, but sometimes I need the gas as backup. My next vehicle will probably be all-electric.

I think of my car as a metaphor for where our society is at right now. We’re embarking on one of the greatest transformations in human history: remaking how we power our society and economy. We’ve made some great progress already. We’ve got a lot more to do. It’s going to require investment sustained over decades, but it will be spectacularly worth it in the long run. It’s exciting and a little scary.

Here in Garfield County, we’ve come a long way in the past decade or so. We’ve seized the opportunity to harness energy efficiency and clean energy as a rural economic development strategy, and we’ve achieved tangible, measurable results.

More than 1,500 residents have made home energy upgrades – adding insulation, sealing windows, replacing old appliances with more efficient new ones, installing rooftop solar – through programs such as ReEnergize Garfield County. They’ve collectively saved themselves $650,000 on energy costs and injected more than $7 million into the local economy.

Another 400-plus business owners have reduced their energy consumption and carbon footprints by an even greater amount – and, by the way, they’re enjoying an average 20% return on their investments.

According to our calculations, all the energy-efficiency, solar and clean-transportation projects undertaken in Garfield County since 2010 have stimulated nearly $33 million in investment, much of it going to some 400 local contractors and suppliers.

Credit for this environmental/economic win-win goes largely to Garfield Clean Energy, a unique collaboration of all local governments in the county, RFTA, Colorado Mountain College and Holy Cross Energy. (Clean Energy Economy for the Region manages Garfield Clean Energy’s programs under an annual contract.)

Since 2010, Garfield Clean Energy has empowered individuals, businesses and communities to take advantage of the benefits of energy efficiency and clean energy. In the spirit of the old Teddy Roosevelt quote – “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are” – GCE brings people together, creates partnerships and pools resources to get as much done as we can in our rural region.

What our county has achieved so far is just the tip of the iceberg of what we can do going forward. Recently, GCE updated its Energy Action Plan for Garfield County, which serves as a long-term roadmap for action. It sets goals of reducing energy consumption by 12 percent, achieving 100-percent carbon-free electricity and increasing the proportion of zero-emissions electric vehicles to 15 percent – all by 2030.

Technologies such as vehicle batteries and charging stations, solar panels and heat pumps are getting better and generally cheaper. Federal and state incentives are making them cheaper still – for example, the Inflation Reduction Act has ushered in a number of expanded tax credits, and it authorizes a raft of new rebates worth thousands of dollars that will become available later this year or early next. This funding will provide homeowners with a fantastic opportunity to modernize their most valuable assets and increase their energy independence.

Public awareness of this topic is growing, too. Wildfires, drought, floods and other weather-related disasters have by now affected most parts of the country – the Grizzly Creek Fire was our local wake-up call – and that’s helping increase support for investment in clean energy.

At the same time, there will be challenges to grapple with. How will we adapt our workforce to install and maintain the new technologies? How will our local governments’ tax bases fare in the clean-energy transition? What can we do to ensure that the transition proceeds equitably, and not leave some behind?

There’s a lot to unpack in future columns. Energy is a big and fascinating subject, and it’s of vital importance because it’s basically the lifeblood of modern civilization. Our energy future is too important to leave to fate… or to Washington.

The steps we’ve taken locally to control our own destiny have put us on a good path with strong momentum. We’re not even halfway there, though, and there are many more actions to be taken. Watch this space.

This is the first of what will be a monthly column in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. It was published in the June 16, 2023 edition.

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