Aspen’s renewable legacy

Before the world knew the phrase ‘climate change’, Aspen snow resort in the United States was busy setting a goal to get 100 per cent of its electricity from renewable energy sources.

It was the 1990s and the municipal City of Aspen wanted to invest in building its own hydro power dams and solar and wind farms.

Aspen Mountain in autumn or fall - showing leadership on climate change

Aspen Mountain in autumn/fall

Fast forward to 2015 and that goal was achieved – ahead of the world’s snow resorts.

It was a continuation of setting records. In 1880, Aspen was the first city west of the Mississippi River in the States to have electrified street lights powered by hydroelectricity.

Aspen, regarded as one of the best and glamorous snow resorts, attracts celebrities and tourists from around the world.

Renewable energy mix

Ashley Perl from the City of Aspen explains the municipal city owns two hydro dams, a solar farm and wind farms, and is currently building a community solar farm.

  • hydro 50%
  • wind 45%
  • solar 5%

Additionally, renewable energy is supplied from the Municipal Energy Association of Nebraska (MEAN).

‘I’m not aware of any other ski resorts that have 100 per cent renewable energy,’ Ashley says.

A small portion of the renewable energy is used to power the chair lifts on the four mountains that make up Aspen resort.

The majority of the energy is used to provide electricity to the Aspen city of 6000 permanent residents, plus the thousands who come every year to hit the ski slopes.

Furthermore, electricity rates have been locked in at a set rate for the next 20 years.

‘We’ve the sixth lowest energy rates in Colorado,’ Ashley says.

One of three

In the United States, only two other towns can boast 100% renewable energy use – Burlington in Vermont and Greensburg in Kansas, says Ashley.

But of course when we are talking about renewable energy today, it does not mean everything runs on clean energy.

There are buildings and houses that use natural gas, and cars and buses run on oil and petrol or diesel, says Ashley.

‘So the only way to reduce energy consumption now is through efficiency and to convert to electricity eventually,’ she says.

Emissions targets

Therefore, through its Canary Initiative, the City of Aspen has targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent by 2020, and 80 per cent by 2050, below 2004 levels.

Ashley, the director of the Initiative, says it includes schemes such as a community bike share program, which has achieved a 60 per cent usage rate by locals. A Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) system gave more than a million rides in 2012.

‘You can get anywhere in Aspen with a bus,’ says Ashley.

Ashley says Aspen has always been in a good position to lead on climate change action due to its name and reputation as a national and international snow tourist destination.

‘If we could influence people who come here to take that back to where they come from, that’s the biggest win in our view,’ she says.

A 92 kw solar PV system at Aspen's water treatment plant, combating climate change

The 92 kw solar PV system at Aspen’s water treatment plant

The Maroon Creek Hydroelectric plant produces 450 kw of energy

The Maroon Creek Hydroelectric plant produces 450 kw of energy

Global drive

Snow resorts around the world have been taking stock of climate change impacts for a number of years.

Many resorts boast lifts and gondolas that are powered by renewable energy. measures initiatives in generating or using renewable energy with a database of around 200 resorts from around the world.

Last year, in the lead-up to the world negotiations on climate change action in Paris in December, Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project launched its ‘I am Pro Snow’ campaign to drive more snow resorts to shift to 100 per cent renewable energy.

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