High Country Conservation Center uses successes in 2021 to outline goals for 2022 | SummitDaily.com

High Country Conservation Center uses successes in 2021 to outline goals for 2022

The organization plans to continue helping individuals and businesses become more energy efficient and explore universal recycling this year

The recycling center off of River Drive in Silverthorne is pictured March 10, 2020. The High Country Conservation Center is currently exploring a pay-as-you-throw program and unviersal recycling for the county.
Liz Copan/Summit Daily News

The High Country Conservation Center is largely tasked with fulfilling and meeting Summit County’s climate goals set forth by its Climate Action Plan, and in 2021, the organization took solid steps to meet some of those goals.

On Tuesday, Feb. 1, the organization updated the Summit Board of County Commissioners about its progress last year and how it plans to use this momentum and further its growth into 2022.

Speaking on behalf of the conservation center was executive director Jennifer Schenk, climate action director Jess Hoover, community programs director Rachel Zerowin, as well as Summit County Sustainability Coordinator Michael Wurzel.

One of the biggest wins the organization completed last year was getting more homeowners to participate in its home energy assessments. The organization’s goal was to complete 90 assessments and it actually completed 135 by the year’s end.

“We had a bang up year with energy audits … that was really terrific,” Hoover said. “(We’re) still trying to plug along with projects because that’s where folks realize the biggest savings.”

The organization partners with Boulder-based EnergySmart to complete the assessments, which give homeowners a ranked list of priorities to make their homes more energy efficient. Last year, the organization set a goal to complete 45 retrofits by the year’s end and it came up short at 31.

Even still, Hoover said those who choose to complete some projects on average save $384 per year and that the economic impact for the community by completing these projects is about $238,000.

Wurzel said to reach some of the county’s climate goals by 2030, “we need to electrify everything,” and Xcel Energy’s initiatives are supportive of making this happen, especially as it relates to building new homes and commercial spaces.

“Part of the reason we could be seeing declines in our overall emissions is Xcel’s energy grid continues to get greener and more renewable and that’s due to, in part, Summit County’s goals of being 100% renewable by 2035 … As we look at those trends in building, I do think we need to continue to evaluate how buildings not just use energy but what the source of this energy is.”

Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue noted that with rising inflation, many community members, including those considered to be in the middle class, are struggling financially. To her point, energy assessments offered through the conservation center begin at $99 and that does not include the cost of completing projects once identified.

Pogue asked if the team should reconsider whether or not it’s realistic to expect community members to complete these kinds of projects under current circumstances. To that, Hoover noted that there was funding available from the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments for those who were at 60% area median income level or lower. The program incentivizes these individuals to complete a couple of projects to electrify homes and make them more energy efficient.

The conservation center is partnering with the council to contribute extra funding to individuals if needed.

Another big win discussed at the meeting was the launch of the electric-vehicle readiness plan last year. Not only did the plan get finalized but the conservation center hosted a few community events last year so individuals could get a better sense for how these vehicles could run successfully in Summit County’s mountainous climate.

Wurzel said he’s interested in continuing this outreach as it applies to individuals, businesses and other organizations, like Summit School District which might be interested in operating electric buses. Wurzel said all of this is not only an effort to reduce emissions but to save residents money, too.

“As we can help people through adopting electric vehicles and move toward electric heating and cooling, they should actually see a reduction in their overall energy bills … The county can help businesses and homeowners subsidize some of these energy retrofits and that should save our residents money in the short term and the long term,” Wurzel said.

More big wins came on the front of recycling and the food scrap program. According to the presentation, 1,907 enrolled in the program last year and 253,640 pounds of food waste was diverted from the landfill, which is about a 9% increase compared to 2020.

Last year, the conservation center also began collecting feedback about a countywide pay-as-you-throw program and universal recycling. Schenk said the organization plans to continue this outreach to see if it’s feasible for the county.

For more information about the work of the High Country Conservation Center, visit HighCountryConservation.org.

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