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Aspen, Colorado, Becomes Third US City to Run Entirely on Renewable Energy

For over a century, Aspen, Colorado, has been a pioneer in the renewable energy community. Earlier this year, the city achieved a new milestone in reducing its carbon footprint.

In August, Aspen became the third community in the United States to use only renewable energy as the source for electricity, joining Burlington, Vermont, and Greensburg, Kansas.

"This has been a project that was started in the mid-2000s, and there were a lot of activities over the years to get here," said Dave Hornbacher, director of Utilities and Environmental Initiatives for the City of Aspen.

The history of renewable energy in Aspen started back in 1885 when they became the first municipality west of the Mississippi River to use hydroelectric power.

Since then, the city has been making adjustments to its power grid and coming up with new ways to exclusively use renewable energy.

Some of the biggest changes have occurred in just the past 10 years after the city developed the Canary Initiative, a plan to reduce the city's carbon footprint and achieve 100 percent renewable energy in 2015.

Part of this included the city buying into a wind farm to help get the project off the ground.

This was followed up by working with a wholesale energy provider that produces green energy to ensure that Aspen has enough resources available to meet the city's energy demands at any given time.

"We use approximately 46 percent hydroelectric energy, 53 percent wind energy and 1 percent landfill gas," Hornbacher said.

Hornbacher added that the city does use solar energy, but its usage is very limited. It is mainly used by households to offset electricity use.

This diverse energy portfolio provides electricity for not only the nearly 7,000 residents that live in Aspen, but also the businesses in the city.

In addition to having a significantly smaller carbon footprint, Aspen's renewable energy has also helped the residents of the city save money.

"One of the myths is that renewable energy is not affordable," Hornbacher said. "For us, we did it in such a fashion where we kept our rates really, really low."

The approach that the city took and the amount of time in which the conversion to completely renewable energy took have kept Aspen's utility rates at the fifth lowest in the state of Colorado.

"Now that we've achieved 100 percent renewable [energy], our journey doesn't end," Harnbacher said.

The customer base is always changing, and there are always new buildings being constructed that are added to Aspen's power grid.

This causes the city's power requirements to vary and may lead to new innovations in the future to meet the energy demand.

What Aspen has accomplished may also lead other towns to be creative and innovative for finding ways that they can achieve a similar goal to reduce their carbon footprint.

"I hope people look to see what the city of Aspen did and see what might be relevant in their pursuit," Harnbacher said.