Joining the Clean Cities movement

To the editor,

Cities across America are taking the lead on climate change action – creating the new energy market and shaping our planet’s future. In July at Denver’s “Clean Cities Renewable Energy Procurement Summit,” I had the fortune to meet dozens of sustainability directors from Maine to California. Big cities like Los Angeles, Phoenix and Philadelphia joined Cincinnati, Tallahassee and Raleigh to articulate paths to energy solutions, progress to date and projected timelines to 100 percent clean electricity, heating and transportation.

To begin to comprehend what’s involved in shifting big cities to clean energy, I needed a scale of reference. I knew that every year our local co-op LPEA, which covers parts of five rural counties, uses almost 1 GWh (gigawatt hour, or billion watts for one hour) of electricity. My imagination staggered hearing that each year San Jose (the tenth largest U.S. city) consumes 500 GWh and that Los Angeles uses 26,000 GWh. In light of these cities’ 100 percent commitments, I feel certain that our area – with our abundant sunshine, wide landscape, need for industry and love for our ecosystem – can figure out how to produce 1 GWh per year. And Durango is the key leader to the success of any Four Corners clean energy effort. We have the sunshine; all we need is committed leadership and a truly supportive community.

Leading is no small enterprise; we underappreciate its difficulty. Any person would rather avoid discomfort, and follow a popular path. Pursuing a daring goal sets a leader up for criticism, resistance and possible failure. So “prudent caution” suggests a leadership style based on community consensus of following polls and reacting to pressure from constituents.

In normal times, this makes sense. But when exisIn normal times, this makes sense. But when existential danger – such as climate change – is on the doorstep, “prudent caution” is a recipe for disaster. That’s why I find deeply encouraging the courage displayed by our 100 percent committed cities. There are times in history when constituents need to be shown the path –persuaded, educated, then simply pulled by the hand through the crisis. Never in history has there been as much of a need for strong leadership as NOW.

Witness the strong leadership here in Colorado. Denver shares a commitment to reach 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030 with Boulder, Fort Collins, Golden, Lafayette and Longmont. Nederland aims for 100 percent by 2025. Breckenridge, Frisco, and the city and county of Pueblo commit to 100 percent by 2035. Of interest, Summit County has pledged to reach 100 percent renewable energy (which includes not only electricity but transportation and heating) by 2035. These great goals correspond well with Colorado’s worthy goals for utilities and communities.

My message to you, reader, is “take heart!” The Clean Cities Summit impressed me with the speed of progress by transitioning cities. I witnessed passionate commitment to confront the climate challenge, combined with comprehensive planning and technological expertise. Importantly, I found a culture of sincere readiness to share knowledge: “Any of us reaching the finish line alone has lost the race.” Durango is lucky to have our own committed Sustainability Director Imogen Ainsworth and a City Council ready to move on this matter. Our city is in a position to lead the Four Corners by example, forging a path that our neighbors can check out first-hand.

Let’s thank our forward-looking City Council for recently passing a resolution committing to renewable electricity goals (50 percent by 2030, 100 percent by 2050) and greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals (80 percent by 2050, 30 percent by 2030).

Responsive to resident comments, our Council is considering strengthening these goals by adding the criteria “locally produced” to “renewable electricity.” That would support the creation of good careers within a locally owned industry and the chance to keep local a big chunk of LPEA’s $70 million/year electrical bill. Many residents take to heart the dire warnings from the International Panel on Climate Change that urge rapid action within the next decade. We therefore hope that Council will follow the example of our sister cities and make its 2030 goals more ambitious, thereby front-loading progress.

Join us at 6:30 p.m., Tues., Sept 17, at City Hall to thank our City Council for its climate commitments and to express your views about clean, cheap energy, stronger local economy, conservation and caring for our environment. Also, from 3 – 5 p.m. Nov. 9 come to “The Clean Cities Movement and Durango’s Future” at the Durango Library.

– Kirby MacLaurin, Durango