High Country Conservation Center highlights 2020 sustainability accomplishments

An employee at Downstairs at Eric's dumps collected food scraps into a dumpster to be composted.
Photo by Arthur Balluff / High Country Conservation Center

Despite the pandemic, High Country Conservation Center met some of its 2020 sustainability goals, such as enrolling businesses in its sustainability program and providing home energy assessments. The environmental nonprofit also focused efforts on recycling and water conservation, which were outlined along with other 2020 accomplishments at the Breckenridge Town Council meeting Jan. 26.

Executive Director Jennifer Schenk said the center completed 15 Solarize Summit projects in Breckenridge last year. The program offers local residents and businesses discounts on solar panel installation.

“Our overall Solarize Summit program across the community was down a little bit, primarily because of COVID, but we still had a ton of success with the program,” Schenk said. “People absolutely love it, and they love the $1,500 rebates. We feel like that is really moving the needle in terms of energy efficiency and carbon reduction.”

The nonprofit’s home energy program, which also aims to improve energy efficiency, exceeded its goal in Breckenridge, conducting 39 assessments. The assessments involve an inspector coming to a residence and providing a report with recommendations for energy-saving home upgrades.

In addition to the assessments, the center retrofitted 14 Breckenridge homes based on those recommendations. The nonprofit estimates the retrofits saved each homeowner about $500 per year on energy bills. The center also gave away 300 LED bulbs with funding from the town.

On the water conservation front, the nonprofit’s Tame the Tap program offers assessments on a home’s water use and then recommends water-saving changes.

“We help homeowners figure out ways they could be saving water, so we look at showers and toilets and faucets and install aerators and things like that and also provide some small rebates to anyone who wants to upgrade any of their water fixtures to save water,” Schenk said.

New last year, the center launched a commercial benchmarking pilot program, where it works with businesses and municipalities — including ski areas, Summit County government and Breckenridge Grand Vacations — to see how much energy buildings are using and compare that to the national standard for a similar building.

Schenk said the program is just getting started but already has resulted in energy savings. The conservation center is looking to expand the program, and Schenk noted that a communitywide electric vehicle readiness plan will be brought to local municipalities for review.

The conservation center’s Resource Wise program — which also aims to help businesses cut down on energy use in addition to carbon emissions and waste — starts with an assessment of the business and is followed by recommendations of where resources and energy could be saved.

The conservation center enrolled 12 businesses in the program, completed 10 sustainability projects at businesses and provided energy efficiency supplies like LED bulbs to businesses in 2020. Schenk noted that businesses that participated in the program and completed projects saved an average of $2,500 annually.

Across Summit County, Schenk said about 17 restaurants began composting in 2020. Mayor Eric Mamula commented that his restaurant, Downstairs at Eric’s, composted 42 tons of material last year.

Schenk said the conservation center also focused on recycling in 2020 and introduced a new tactic called “oops” tagging, where staff went into Breckenridge neighborhoods and would look through the recycling bins of residents. On bins with contents that aren’t recyclable, staff would leave a note with tips for better recycling. Schenk said staff went to the same neighborhoods in July and September and found that about 40% of the bins had a reduced contamination rate.

Also on the recycling front, Breckenridge Sustainability Coordinator Jessie Burley noted that the town’s glass recycling service provider went out of business, so the town will have to go out to bid for a new provider.

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