Famous for its popular ski resorts, Aspen, Colorado has a front row seat to the effects of climate change. As temperatures continue to rise, the snowpack that forms the very foundation of Aspen’s tourism-based economy is at risk. Average temperatures in Aspen have increased by about 2°F since 1940, and the annual frost-free period has increased by 23 days since 1980. Local leaders, businesses and community members understand the threat, and are pursuing a range of initiatives to both reduce the community’s climate impact, and build resilience to anticipated changes. Overall, Aspen’s experience is that these efforts improve quality of life for area residents — a welcomed benefit of doing the right thing.
In 2007, Aspen adopted a Climate Action Plan that commits the city to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 30% by 2020 and by 80% by 2050 (below 2004 levels).Over the last decade, local leaders have taken great strides to reduce vehicle emissions—by investing in transit, pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, developing incentives for electric vehicles, and much more. Aspen was one of 50 communities to participate in the Georgetown University Energy Prize, a multi-year national energy efficiency competition that resulted in a huge jump in the local adoption of efficient technologies and practices.
The results speak for themselves. By 2014, Aspen had reduced its emissions by more than 7 percent—despite continued growth during that period. Today, Aspen’s municipal electric utility is powered by100% renewable energy (53% hydroelectric, 46% wind power, 1% landfill gas), and consistently please its customers with some of the lowest electricity rates in the state.
Aspen’s leaders are also active on the state and federal level, leveraging their positive results at the local level to showcase what can be achieved on a larger scale. To that end, they have joined a network known as Colorado Communities for Climate Action that advocates for energy efficiency and clean energy legislation in the state. Elected officials from both the City of Aspen and Pitkin County have signed resolutions supporting a federal price on carbon, and engage with their local chapters of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby , a national organization that pushes for the institution of a predictable, steadily rising price on carbon.
This is what smart and economically sound local climate policy looks like. If other communities follow in Aspen’s footsteps, we can turn our collective vision of a clean energy future into a reality.