The decision to mandate electrification of new construction at Crested Butte was at one point described as a small step during council and staff discussions of the matter on Monday. In some ways it is, given the size of the city and what is left in terms of CB construction with less than 100 vacant lots left in the city. But it’s a bold move, and honestly, one that will likely lead to unintended consequences. This is not something to ignore and the board are aware that they may need to pivot in the future.
The city council seems willing to take the big leap to this “small step” and require that from 2023 almost all new commercial and residential construction (with some exceptions like commercial kitchens) be electrified. The same requirement would come with major renovations of commercial and residential spaces.
The city has always made it clear that it wants to help mitigate climate change if it can. It has been pointed out that in the last few weeks alone, the United States Supreme Court has made it harder for the federal government and Senator Joe Manchin’s decision not to support a climate action program supported by the rest Senate Democrats make it clear there’s not much the Feds can do now.
So, as often happens, small communities and local governments must lead the way. The Crested Butte City Council appears set to do just that by being the first municipality in Colorado to mandate the electrification of future buildings within its city limits. I don’t know why other liberal communities in Colorado (Hello Boulder!) haven’t already and city planner Mel Yemma said other cities are considering and working on electrification policies, but Crested Butte has never been afraid to be at the forefront.
Council member Beth Goldstone summed up the mood of the council by extolling the example it will set. She said Crested Butte had the opportunity to be a leader on climate policy and show it could be done. She also pointed out that the city’s small size will allow it to pivot if anything unexpected happens as a result of the legislation.
The action would indeed set a new standard. Crested Butte, like other resort communities, attracts people from across the country and around the world. If these visitors see success here, our example can be taken from other communities in Texas, California or Australia. Crested Butte could be the seed that helps germinate a new garden of ideas.
Seems to me the council would definitely put their eggs in a basket not yet fully woven since the power grid isn’t super ‘clean’ but is heading in that direction as major power providers like Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association actively shifting from coal-fired generation to more renewable types of energy such as solar and wind power. In the language of the game, the board is betting on the finish. City staff are using some data to show that natural gas isn’t as clean as they claim, given product leaks. Nothing is perfect right now but I was comforted by local builder Don Smith who told me he had built all the electric homes in the valley and they worked and had lots of hit.
Valid arguments made by Atmos Energy and Valley resident Peter Dea show that natural gas is a good source of energy, probably currently “cleaner” than Tri-State electricity. Natural gas also provides a strong, affordable, and resilient backup solution in the event the power grid goes offline, which is happening more often due to the ramifications of climate change. Perhaps Kent Cowherd’s idea of extending the term for a few years is valid. Maybe that would just lessen the impact. I do not know.
The council is still asking questions and wants to see clear and comparable price figures that will impact its citizens as a result of the electrification action. They want to know what this will mean for the upcoming Sixth and Butte and Paradise Park affordable housing project due to start next year. Mayor Ian Billick said Monday there’s a certain responsibility in laying out the logic of the decision when you’re the first in Colorado to do so. It makes sense and so this stage is not totally complete at this point, but the wheels are turning and the earth is preparing for a seed that could be planted next month.
This board has always been clear about its desire to jump into the climate change arena. They did not hesitate to want to take strong measures in terms of the climate. The fact that they are in favor of total electrification should not surprise anyone. They are still in the thinking phase and want more information before the August 2 board meeting where they will likely make an official decision. They’re also asking for more public comment on the idea, so reach out to your reps and let them know what you think.
Will electrifying Crested Butte save the planet? No. Any such climate mitigation achieved through the electrification of our small town would likely be wiped out by a Chinese coal plant running for about an hour, but it’s a start. If the numbers add up and the logic makes sense over the next two weeks, I have no doubt the board will take the plunge and start taking new baby steps. If this comes to fruition, it could be a seed that helps spread a new garden of ideas that will be truly important to us, our children, and our grandchildren.