Summit County to go dark for Earth Hour on Saturday, March 24 | SummitDaily.com

Summit County to go dark for Earth Hour on Saturday, March 24

The Summit County Board of County Commissioners issued a proclamation on Tuesday declaring 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 24, as "Earth Hour." During that hour, Summit County government buildings and facilities will turn off most external lights and go dark to raise awareness of climate change.

This will be the eighth Earth Hour observed in Summit County and marks 11 years since the first Earth Hour was commemorated in Sydney, Australia, back in 2007. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) organizes the event worldwide as a visible, symbolic way to raise awareness of climate change as well as to promote energy conservation. The WWF estimates that over 7,000 towns and cities across 152 countries will participate and turn off their lights during the designated hour.

Earth Hour was introduced to Summit in 2009 when Patrick Paden, then a 15-year-old Summit High School student and Silverthorne resident, lobbied the Silverthorne Town Council to recognize Earth Hour and turn off its lights during the designated time. Breckenridge, Dillon, Frisco, Summit County and almost every local government body including the school district soon followed suit.

For the past few years, local participation has fallen off. This year, the Summit County government is the only local governing body to officially issue a proclamation observing Earth Hour.

Summit County Manager Scott Vargo said that only non-essential services will be affected.

"Summit County government will turn off lights at its various facilities, such as the county commons and the Medical Office Building, but we will maintain some minimal lighting for safety purposes," he said.

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Vargo added that the county has made many strides over the years to become more eco-friendly, including the installation of solar panels to power a number of county buildings, installing LED bulbs and retrofitting older buildings with better insulation. Looking forward, the county hopes to upgrade its diesel bus fleet to all-electric in the future and provide electric charging stations for vehicles at public facilities like the Frisco Transit Center.

Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier acknowledged that turning off county building lights is not as "dramatic" as the Eiffel Tower or Golden Gate Bridge going dark for an hour. However, she believes it's still symbolically important that local communities show they care and are concerned about the impact of climate change.

"It's a time to pause and consider how we can do a lot more lights-out, heat-down savings of all kinds to do our parts to lessen human impact on climate change," she said.

Summit has also adopted a building code that requires buildings to be more energy efficient than in the past. Commissioner Thomas Davidson said the code was controversial at the time, but that the county and its residents have seen the benefits of the code.

"Does it add expense to building construction? Yes it does," he acknowledged. "But does it mean the home ends up with a return on the investment because of low energy bills? It absolutely does."

Commissioner Dan Gibbs added that Earth Hour "is a great way to spark a conversation about our environmental impacts," and that Summit County is particularly affected by climate change.

"We're facing a wide variety of environmental challenges, from climate change to loss of biodiversity to air and water pollution," he said. "We owe it to one another and to future generations to reflect on all the ways we can address these challenges at home, at work, at school, in the voting booth and in the halls of government and commerce."

Summit residents are encouraged to join in for Earth Hour, if they are able, and turn off their lights from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Saturday.