Denver missed its goal for reduction of its carbon footprint in the first phase of its Climate Action Plan. “But we’re heading in the right direction – downward,” said Gregg W Thomas, Denver’s environmental assessment and policy supervisor. “We came close.”
In contrast, carbon dioxide levels continue to climb globally. A Canadian-based clearing house, CO2 Org, writes, “Both atmospheric CO2 and climate change are accelerating.”
Thomas credits Denver’s success to a unified effort by business, government and individuals. Citizens could make all the difference toward meeting the 2020 goal, now in the planning stage.
Denver had set a goal for a 10 percent reduction in its greenhouse gas footprint by 2012.
The city actually achieved its goal in 2009, said Thomas. It backtracked slightly in 2010.
It began with a footprint averaging 23.9 metric tons per person in 2005, with the goal of reaching 21.5 million metric tons in five years. It came in last year at 21.8 million metric tons per person.
What made the difference? The economy plunged. Thomas said, “Budgets were cut. Many green construction projects were shelved.”
Thomas cited the impact of a coal-fired plant Xcel put on line.
In 2010, the direction changed. Take Xcel. Nudged by a tighter deadline set by a new state law, the Clean Air Clean Jobs Act, Xcel accelerated plans to convert its coal-fired Cherokee plant in Denver to natural gas by 2018. It had proposed earlier to convert the plant in 2022.
The Public Utilities Commission had earlier approved parts of a company plan to close five other coal-fired plants in Denver and Boulder, switch one in Denver to natural gas and add emissions controls on units in Brush and Hayden, reported the Huffington Post Denver last December.
Denver prepares now to set new goals for 2020, and Thomas is optimistic. He recognized moves across the board – by companies large and small, the public and private sectors.
The response from the public has been particularly encouraging. “We’ve definitely seen more participation than traditionally been the case,” he said.
At Groundwork Denver, a non-profit involved in Denver green projects, executive director Wendy Hawthorne has noticed an increase, “There’s a growing desire for people to participate,” she said.
Her organization has drawn more than 2,000 volunteers.
One of the seven green initiatives involved canvassing target neighborhoods and replacing incandescent porch light bulbs with compact fluorescents. The CFL front porch bulbs will reduce almost 4,000 tons of CO2 emissions over the life of the bulbs and save households $500,000, Hawthorne said.
“Little steps can bring big changes,” said Thomas. “If just 10 percent or 20 percent of Denver residents became involved with lowering our carbon footprint, the impact would be huge.”