Tim Winter, Routt County's building and plant director, talks about the solar panels on the new Routt County Justice Center.
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Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs is one of eight potential pilot communities for a state program to certify and sell carbon offsets, or reductions of greenhouse gas emissions to counter pollution created elsewhere.
Susan Innis of the Governor's Energy Office is program manager for the Colorado Carbon Fund, which she said would be "the first statewide voluntary carbon offset program in the country." The program would implement standards, audits and a certification process for a budding industry that Innis said can sometimes leave consumers guessing about the value of their purchase.
"There's no sort of government regulation of carbon offset products - that's one of the reasons the GEO is getting involved," she said. "We want to make sure Colorado consumers have a project available so they know where their money is going. : In some cases, you might not know exactly how your money is being spent or what the environmental impacts are."
Offsets and renewable energy credits, or RECs, often are sold to buyers seeking to mitigate the environmental impact of their business or home - for example, the Steamboat Ski Area purchases RECs for facilities including the Sunshine Express and Burgess Creek chairlifts, then promotes the resort's commitment to renewable energy.
Xcel Energy purchases RECs - including from Routt County, for solar power generated on the roof of the Routt County Justice Center - to meet state requirements created by Amendment 37, a renewable energy initiative passed by voters in 2004 and upgraded by the state Legislature in 2007.
Xcel spokeswoman Ethnie Groves said RECs purchased by Xcel are tied to metered power production.
"We know that energy being produced is being sent to our system, and we track that and evaluate it through our renewable energy system internally," she said Friday.
But Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. President Chris Diamond acknowledged last summer that the ski area's REC purchases were "a little bogus" because "the measuring protocol wasn't in place." In other words, when a business or homeowner purchases a certain amount of renewable energy production to compensate for their carbon emissions, it is sometimes hard to verify the production allocated solely to the buyer.
Innis said one intent of the Colorado Carbon Fund is to increase consumer confidence by instilling verification practices, likely through a third party.
"It's a lot like a financial audit," she said. "They would issue a certification for our program if it meets all those standards. : We're going to sell carbon offsets to individuals, businesses and institutions who want to mitigate their greenhouse gas emissions."
Innis said Aspen is the Colorado Carbon Fund's first community partner and already is selling state-approved carbon offsets through its wide-ranging Canary Initiative.
Innis said other community partners could include Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, Telluride, Durango, Eagle Valley and Steamboat. She recently met with Steamboat Springs and Routt County officials to discuss local energy efficiency and renewable energy initiatives.
"There is a lot of interest in developing resources to promote renewable energy in the Yampa Valley area," she said. "We're looking at how our program could facilitate those local efforts."
Thursday morning, Routt County Manager Tom Sullivan discussed how to increase the county's environmental sustainability efforts, a desire he said arose at a county staff retreat last month.
"One of the goals is to make economic, social and environmental objectives part of county services," Sullivan said to staff members.
The county is looking to increase its energy efficiency through small means such as reducing waste from catered meals and large means such as the 165 solar panels on the roof of the Justice Center. The panels provide about 10 percent of the building's power, building and plant director Tim Winter said. The panels also provide money - Xcel has paid Routt County about $1,600 for its solar power production so far this year.
Innis was careful to distinguish between RECs and carbon offsets.
"RECs are sold in terms of kilowatt hours, (while) carbon offsets are sold in terms of tons or pounds of carbon dioxide and are really meant to offset the pollution that you cause," she said.
Innis said verified, reliable carbon offsets are just one component of the Colorado Carbon Fund.
"I hope that we'll have the program up and running early this summer," she said.