After 2022 successes, a Summit County climate nonprofit looks to more work ahead

Frisco-based High Country Conservation Center eyes further community outreach, bolstered programs for homeowners and new federal funding

Workers install solar panels onto a roof in Summit County. Federal tax credits through the Inflation Reduction Act will go towards sustainable home upgrades, a benefit that the Frisco-based environmental nonprofit High Country Conservation Center said it would be advertising to communities.
High Country Conservation Center/Courtesy photo

High Country Conservation Center, a Frisco-based environmental nonprofit, reported a slew of successes last year in its efforts to move the needle on renewable energy for local communities. As they begin 2023, nonprofit leaders said they are optimistic about continued and new opportunities to further bolster Summit County’s environmental sustainability. 

Discussed during a Jan. 31 Summit Board of County Commissioners meeting, members of the conservation center said they were able to help provide more than $37,000 in rebates last year to Summit County residents for clean energy upgrades to their homes  — which they said saved homeowners an average of $563 on their energy bills. 

The program, known as Energy Smart Colorado, was created in 2010 through a coalition of Eagle, Pitkin and Gunnison counties to deliver federal funding for home energy improvements — which can include new heat pumps, HVAC systems and electric panels aimed at improving energy sustainability. It has since expanded to more mountain communities, including Summit. 

“Saving money is important, but improving home comfort and making people enjoy their homes that much more is also very important,” said Jessica Hoover, the nonprofit’s climate action director. 

As it begins a new year, the conservation center said it will look to educate communities about new benefits from the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act — a federal law that will offer billions in tax credits to electrify homes. 

“With the Inflation Reduction Act, there’s a lot more federal funding coming for projects like this,” Hoover said, adding the federal money can “really help us move forward in meeting our climate action goals.”

Other outreach campaigns will focus on local programs, such as the Food Scrap Program which promotes using food waste for sustainable compost. 

According to Rachel Zerowin, the conservation center’s community programs director, more than 2,600 people were enrolled in the free program last year leading to a 19% waste diversion increase in 2022 — with about 305,100 pounds of food diverted. 

But work remains to be done around educating residents about recycling programs. 

For example, a 2022 conservation center survey of 300 people found 60% were unaware of how and where to recycle glass while only 16% of residents staying in paid lodging were informed of recycling at check-in. And encouraging the benefits of recycling will also be important this year, Zerowin said. 

“The folks who are passionate about recycling just kind of said, ‘It’s the right thing to do,’” Zerowin said. “The folks who were more on the neutral side started to say, ‘It’s inconsistent. We’re not sure if it’s actually getting recycled. It’s confusing.’”

Those findings, Zerowin said, will inform the nonprofit about how it engages in outreach moving forward. “We’ve got some work to do,” she added. 

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