Summit County Commissioners eye program to require installation of renewable energy to offset emissions from outdoor amenities like hot tubs

Similar programs requiring fossil-fuel consuming outdoor amenities to be offset have been adopted elsewhere in Colorado

A solar panel array is pictured at the Silverthorne's North Pond Park. Summit County Commissioners expressed support for a program that aims to offset the emissions from certain home amenities during a meeting Tuesday, June 13, 2023.
Eli Pace / Summit Daily archive

Summit County Commissioners expressed support Tuesday, June 13, for a proposed program aimed at reducing and offsetting emissions from outdoor amenities such as fire pits, snowmelt systems and heated hot tubs and pools.

The Summit Renewable Energy Mitigation Program would require residents and businesses to have on-site renewable energy offsets for excessive uses of outdoor energy or pay a fee, county sustainability coordinator Ashley Brubaker told the commission.

“Most of these amenities run on natural gas, which is a fossil fuel that emits carbon and other greenhouse gases and has no potential to get any cleaner anytime soon,” Brubaker said.

For decades, scientists have warned that humans burning fossil fuels have increased concentrations of greenhouse gases, which trap the sun’s heat in the atmosphere, leading the planet to warm. In recent years, scientists have linked prolonged drought conditions and devastating wildfires in the West to climate change caused by fossil fuel consumption. 

The Summit Renewable Energy Mitigation Program only targets amenities like fire pits and heated hot tubs, which are completely optional for residential and commercial builders, Brubaker said. Therefore people can choose not to participate by not including outdoor amenities in their project.

More than 10 mountain communities in Colorado have passed similar mitigation programs, Brubaker said. County staff developed the proposed program in collaboration with Breckenridge, which is proposing an almost identical program, she said.

On-site mitigation would include the installation of solar panels, solar water heaters, wind power or mini hydropower systems, according to details of the program laid out in staff memos included in the commissioner’s agenda packet.

“I think that we have the overall goal of: If you’re doing this excessive snowmelt, well you need to pay to play,” Commissioner Elizabeth Lawrence said. “… I mean it’s 2023. The world is burning down around us.”

Commissioner Josh Blanchard said that he also supports the program but wants to make sure that it doesn’t restrict accessibility by making it so that wheelchair ramps or similar features lack snowmelt systems.

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“I just want to make sure that builders and the design of the facility is accessible to our diverse community and the folks that are visiting Summit County,” Blanchard said.

The commissioners were told that the chief building officer has leeway to allow variations, such as in the case that a wheelchair ramp required the use of additional snowmelt systems.

Rather than install on-site mitigation, builders can also make a payment-in-lieu that would be calculated based on the energy usage of the outdoor amenities. The funds generated through these payments would be used at the discretion of the commissioners for programs aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing access to renewable energy and improving energy efficiency, Brubaker said.

The program as proposed contains several exemptions, according to the staff memos. For example, while 100% of energy use from exterior hot tubs and pools must be offset for residential buildings, one hot tub under 64 square feet is exempt per residential property.

Meanwhile, for commercial buildings with permanent natural gas appliances, such as fire pits and stoves, only 10% of the first combined 350,000 British thermal units of energy use must be offset, with any additional energy use requiring a 100% offset.

The program also exempts up to 100 square feet of snowmelt per emergency egress pathway for commercial buildings and up to 100 square feet of continuous snowmelt for safety at residential properties.

Control parameters related to some amenities are also put in place by the program, the staff memos state. For example, snowmelt systems will be required to have automated controls that ensure the systems only operate when moisture is present and the outdoor air temperature is 20-40 degrees.

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