How Aspen's Transition To 100% Renewable Energy Can Help Other Cities

With a number of cities around the United States promising a transition into 100 percent renewable energy, they should look at what Aspen has accomplished. They still have plenty of carbon emissions, but they're leading the way in green energy.


May 26 2019, Updated 2:21 p.m. ET

More cities in the United States continue to show support for transitioning toward 100 percent renewable energy. Philadelphia, for example, recently announced initiatives they’re taking to reach that goal by 2035. Aspen, Colorado, is a city that was ahead of the curve on attempting to run on maximum sustainability, but they’ve also faced some challenges in getting there.

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Aspen set the goal of achieving fully renewable energy back in 2006. It made sense, considering the community was built around their environment in that it benefitted the ski industry. Initially, the city had two hydroelectric plants back in the 1980s, and they decided to turn on a third one to get close to the 100 percent threshold.

Millions of dollars had to be funded in order to repair the Castle Creek hydroplant that was closed back in 1958. However, this process ran into some serious issues. NPR reports that, “residents and groups ultimately worried the plan would reduce stream flows, and that would harm the environment.” Back in the summer of 2011, citizens even threatened a lawsuit and stated that the city abandoned water rights for the plant after closing it. 

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One year later, the plan to revive the hydroplant was scrapped. They were able to import other renewable energy, such as wind and natural gas, from other parts of the country. Since the city was generating up to 80 percent from alternative sources already, they were able to achieve 100 percent renewable energy in 2015. They’ve joined other various cities from Texas, Vermont, Kansas, and Missouri.

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However, just because they can achieve full renewable energy doesn’t mean that the job is done. Aspen is completely lit sustainably, but heat, ski resorts, and houses around the city are still partly powered by biogas and various fossil fuels. Carbon emissions are also still fairly high for the city. Sadly, in the same year they achieved 100 percent renewable energy, they still emitted 25,944 tons of CO2 in the air.

These carbon emissions are high due to the many ski resorts in the area. Skico was responsible for an increase due to making more snow than years prior. Water usage went up 40 million gallons and it created over 1,400 more tons of carbon emissions. They’ve since attempted to cut their emissions by 80 percent and are focusing on lobbying for green energy.

Sierra Club is an organization that helps communities with their difficulties in reaching the 100 percent renewable energy mark. The next steps for Aspen to take are to focus on transportation on the roads, local airports, and the natural gas that’s used to heat homes. Jodie Van Horn, Sierra Club’s Campaign Director, praised Aspen for doing what they could and bringing in renewable energy from other parts of the country, saying, "that city is helping to shift not just the electrons consumed within that community but really helping ... the grid move toward cleaner ... sources of energy like wind and solar."


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