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Mountain towns seek lower carbon footprint

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So far, most towns and cities that have vowed to substantially shrink their carbon footprints have had no remarkable success. The gains have been small, the gap between aspiration and attainment still enormous.

The most discernible successes have been within governmental operations. In Wyoming, stimulus money from the U.S. government, strong consensus among local officials, and no small amount of luck has allowed the Jackson city government and Teton County to meet their goal of reducing energy use 10 percent by the year 2010.

There was some muted grumbling in early 2007 when elected officials and administrators told the assembled employees of the goal. Some thought it Al Gore quackery, but they were reminded that saving taxpayer money was never a bad thing to do. And saving energy was saving money.

Energy audits of buildings, improved insulation, and installation of solar panels at the wastewater treatment plant - the single biggest user of energy - have followed. And cops stopped idling their cars as if they owned half of Saudi Arabia. That success was achieved after town mechanics figured out a way to connect laptop computers, which police now consider as essential as guns, to auxiliary batteries.

Still, success resulted in no small part because last winter was crummy. There was the Great Recession, of course, but plowing crews had little snow to move, so used much less fuel than normal.

As for reducing energy use in the broader community of Jackson Hole - that's still a battle to commence. It's an enormous one.

What's realistic? In British Columbia, eight per cent less energy use by 2020 is the goal posed in the Revelstoke Community Energy and Emissions Plan. Consultant Megan Lohmann told the Revelstoke Times-Review that the goal is realistic because of increased energy costs and improved technology, both of which will encourage efficiency and conservation. Legislation from other levels of government, presumably both the provincial and federal governments, will also yield downward pressure.

"Energy costs will continue to increase," she said. "Opportunities to become more efficient will increase."

Revelstoke's plan has no silver bullet, as the saying goes, but much silver buckshot. For example, bike paths would be cleared year round to allow year-round cycling. A gas collection system could be installed at the community landfill, to collect methane - a powerful greenhouse gas - and perhaps convert it to useful energy. And the city could expand its central heating system, putting new high-density dwellings onto the loop, increasing efficiency.

As well, Revelstoke envisions new public charging stations, to accommodate electric cars, which are more efficient than internal combustion engines. It also envisions curbside recycling.

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