Fort Collins forges ahead on climate goals

Throughout the nation, municipalities are showing leadership in addressing climate change, and Fort Collins, Colorado, is leading the leaders. The city recently revised its climate action goals to reduce its total greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2030 across all sectors relative to 2005 levels.

An article in the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) Outlet Redirecting to a non-government site notes that the 2030 target is 20 years sooner than the “80 by ‘50” goal other leading cities have set, making it among the most ambitious of any city in the world. RMI is among the many partners the Fort Collins City Council engaged to assess the costs and benefits to the community of accelerating the city’s greenhouse gas emissions goals. The partnership includes community leaders, local businesses, citizen advisory groups, the communities’ generation and distribution utilities and research institutes.

Investment required
Led by city government and Fort Collins Utilities,Redirecting to a non-government site the partnership has discussed, analyzed and reviewed approaches to achieving the goals. The forward-looking plan lays the groundwork to stimulate hundreds of millions of dollars of new investments in efficiency and renewable resources in the years ahead. The upfront capital requirements will be high, but RMI estimates that the investments in carbon reduction will begin producing real financial benefits to the community close to 2030.

In addition to investing in infrastructure upgrades and clean central generation, the community will need to improve its building stock as well. The targets the city has identified to achieve its goals include:

  • Reduce building emissions by 40 percent through greater efficiency and distributed solar adoption
  • Reduce carbon emissions from the utility electricity system by 79 percent from 2005 levels
  • Reduce transportation carbon emissions by 57 percent from 2005 levels
  • Create a zero-waste community

Utility tackles challenge
Increasing the efficiency of the building stock poses a special challenge, as buildings are responsible for 53 percent of emissions and participation in retrofit programs is often low. The city’s municipal utility plays a central role in encouraging citizens to invest in efficiency for homes and commercial facilities. A recently approved update to the utility’s on-bill financing program allows unprecedented access and flexibility for financing efficiency. The plan gives customers the ability to allocate costs between tenant and landlord, and includes longer financing terms that match the life of the upgrades, lower interest rates and an easier approval process.

The integrated utility services model Redirecting to a non-government site Fort Collins Utilities developed with RMI’s support could, if adopted, do even more to promote building efficiency. It would allow the utility to centrally deliver energy services; such as efficiency, distributed renewables and value-added services; at scales that will achieve cost savings and high-quality service, and be paid for on customers’ electricity bills. This approach offers an innovative model for utilities seeking to grow their business by diversifying their services to customers.

Long journey to sustainability
The new goals are part of continuing process that has engaged the city and its partners for more than 15 years.

The Fort Collins City Council passed a resolution in 1999, committing the city to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions significantly by 2010. The landmark year of 2007 saw the formation of the city’s Climate Task Force and the implementation of FortZED, funded by an $11 million federal grant. The project created a zero-energy district in Fort Collins’ downtown business district and the Colorado State University Redirecting to a non-government site campus. It also launched a dialogue between the university, the utility and the city that continues today, and led directly to the city council’s vote to adopt the historic new goals.

The process has not been smooth or easy, but the city has already made significant progress. By continuing its methodical, inclusive and thoughtful approach, Fort Collins is showing how even a town of 150,000 can make big strides in fighting climate change.

Source: RMI Outlet, 3/4/15