Mountain Village is green country

Green Gondola Project

Words by Nichole Zangara / Environment

What color is Mountain Village? The correct answer is not beige, as one visiting journalist suggested (after an all-too-cursory look-see). Somehow he missed the white. Mountain Village is an embarrassment of snow white this winter, perhaps from some breaking open of its karmic piggybank. And he missed the green, green as in sustainable, energy efficient, and environmentally conscious.

In 2009, Mountain Village adopted the State of Colorado’s Climate Action Plan goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from government operations 20 percent by the year 2020. To reach this ambitious goal, the town implemented a long list of efficiency and conservation projects in all government buildings and facilities, including the gondola, where all lights were upgraded to LEDs. This project alone reduced the electricity used for gondola lighting by 70 percent and carbon emissions by 100 tons annually.

By 2015, Mountain Village achieved a 22 percent reduction in emissions, five years ahead of schedule.

Green Gondola Project
Opened in December 1996, the gondola that operates between “uptown” (Mountain Village) and “downtown” (Telluride) is, as conceived, a green-leaning machine: by hauling roughly 2.5 million passengers each year for free, it keeps cars off the road and prevents an estimated 45,000 tons of carbon dioxide in vehicle emissions from entering the environment annually. (The drive between Mountain Village and Telluride is eight miles.)

What’s more, the gondola’s very existence is in keeping with the vision of the founders that Mountain Village, incorporated in 1995, one day becomes a pedestrian-friendly community where guests can leave their cars behind and access the surrounding mountains by a free and environmentally-friendly public transportation system.

“The gondola is an integral part of the Mountain Village lifestyle,” explained Deanna Drew, Mountain Village’s environmental services director. “It deserves to be as green as possible.”

But the gondola, a solution, also became part of the problem: it takes energy a lot of energy – approximately two million kilowatt hours of electricity a year or nearly half of the Mountain Village government’s total electricity demands – to run the popular people-moving machine.

Enter the Green Gondola Project, which for the past four years has further assisted with the reduction of emissions from the gondola as it allowed the town to raise money through online donations, collection boxes at terminals, and other programs to offset the large amount of electricity that is needed to power the gondola with alternative energy sources.

To date, funds collected through the Green Gondola Project have opened the door for significant solar panel installation on gondola terminals: 160 solar panels at Station St. Sophia and Station Village Parking, bringing the total amount of clean green energy generated annually by the sun to about 60,000 kilowatt hours. Count the zeroes: that’s a significant amount of electricity.

So with the Green Gondola Project’s success, the need for public donations comes to an end; the project has served its environmental purpose well. Mountain Village is now using town funds collected from its green building program and miscellaneous energy rebates and grants to pay for the installation of additional solar panels throughout town. Of course, these efforts will continue to drive Mountain Village’s 22 percent reduction in emissions northward.

And, as Mountain Village has done since 2007, the town continues to offset 100 percent of the gondola’s remaining traditional electricity needs with renewable energy Green Blocks purchased from its electricity provider and partner, San Miguel Power Association.

While no doubt central to the overall plan, the Green Gondola Project is not the whole sustainable story. Other Mountain Village environmental programs include a residential and commercial rooftop solar rebate program; Relight Mountain Village, a highly subsidized program designed to encourage property owners to replace inefficient light bulbs with LEDS; a community noxious weed control incentive program; water conservation incentive program; and a new wildfire mitigation incentive program with the Telluride Mountain Village Owners Association and Telluride Fire Protection District as partners.

“Mountain Village is taking steps to reduce our community’s impact on the environment by leading by example and using carrots rather than sticks. Our current Town Council is very supportive of conservation initiatives, and that is something we can all be proud of,” Drew said.