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That special Aspen energy

Brief by Allen Best

Energy – November 2007 – Colorado Central Magazine

Although their windows may be dark much of the year, the vacation homes in Aspen are actually using more energy than those occupied full time, a new study concludes.

The study was commissioned by The Sopris Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Aspen. The work builds on a previous study of greenhouse gas emissions done on behalf of Aspen’s Canary Initiative.

About 58 percent of Aspen’s residential units are used only part-time, on average about three months per year, according to the calculations of consultant Richard Heede of Climate Mitigation Services. Furthermore, it was relatively easy to figure out the floor space of the homes.

Condominium and townhomes used part-time are not much bigger than those used by locals, but the single-family homes used part-time are 35 percent larger than those owned by locals.

Actual utility records were available for only a few dozen homes, but in those cases, the energy used to heat and light the part-time homes was virtually identical on a per square foot basis to those of full-time residents.

How could this be? “Many larger residences have roof and/or drive-way melt systems,” Heede says in the report. “Anecdotally, driveway heating is typically on all winter regardless of occupancy to avoid difficult snow and ice clearing should the owner arrive suddenly.”

Furthermore, says the study, many homes have two or three refrigerators that remain on, even when nobody is there for months on end, and the security and ventilation systems are also kept on, as is exterior and interior lighting, to simulate occupancy.

“Excessive energy consumption, often with no comfort or security benefits, represents a problem for a community that aims to reduce community energy intensity and emissions of greenhouse gases,” the report asserts.

Piper Foster, of The Sopris Foundation, said energy use for vacation homes was the “energy in the room” in Aspen’s discussion about climate-changing greenhouse gases. The community has pledged to reduce greenhouse gases 30 percent below 2004 by the year 2020.

Can Aspen really walk that talk? Speaking with the Aspen Daily News, Heede said even small items, like turning down heat in a 10,000-square-foot home from 60 to 55 degrees, can make a big difference. But, he conceded, Aspen has a long way to go.

Still to be addressed is the biggest elephant in the room, the fuel use of Aspen’s jet-setting visitors. The 2004 inventory of greenhouse gas emissions found that Aspen’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions are double those of the U.S., with much of that energy consumption the result of transportation, particularly jets.