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Fort Collins, CO Sets High Standard for Climate Action

Posted by Danielle Marquis

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November 3, 2015 at 2:00 AM

Sometimes, change is the mother of invention—specifically climate change. Recently in Colorado, the Fort Collins City Council voluntarily adopted revised climate action goals that rank among the most ambitious of any city in the world. The framework for the city's Climate Action Plan calls for reducing carbon dioxide emissions community-wide by 20 percent compared to 2005 levels by 2020, and by 80 percent by 2030. The long-range goal is to have emissions at or below the baseline level by 2050. Reaching that goal will take a lot of work, innovation and money. The ability to get a project like this financed is a major indicator of the project’s viability.



Why so urgent?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a final summary report in Copenhagen in November 2014. This report underscores three major facts about climate change:

  • Climate change is human-caused and is already having dangerous impacts across the world.
  • If the world community acts now, warming can still be kept below the politically agreed-upon "safe" limit of two degrees Celsius.
  • The ability to secure a safe climate future is not only possible but also economically viable.


This premise laid the foundation for Fort Collins’ Climate Action Plan Framework. It’s worth noting that Fort Collins was already well positioned for such a radical vision, having already established itself as early adopter of innovations in the realm of climate action.


Even so, Fort Collins was able to cut the suggested timetable for achieving net zero by 15 years. Macro trends such as faster-than-projected cost declines for key technologies such as solar PV, wind and electric transportation, coupled with new financing models, pave the way for accelerated customer adoption. On a local level, Fort Collins can leverage smart urban planning applied to an already-strong growth rate, as well as a business community with a strong environmental conscience.


One of the biggest hurdles is funding, and a strategy for addressing that has to do with the fact that Fort Collins owns an electric utility with a collaborative regional power supply partner. According to the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), which provided much of the research and analysis that influenced the action plan, “Fort Collins Utilities is already playing a central role enabling distributed investments in the community’s buildings while catalyzing energy efficiency adoption. It recently approved an update to its on-bill financing program that allows unprecedented access and flexibility for financing efficiency, including the ability to allocate costs (with permission) between tenant and landlord, longer financing terms that match the life of the upgrades, lower interest rates, and an easier approval process. A more ambitious approach being considered—the integrated utility service model developed with RMI’s support—would allow the utility to centrally deliver energy services (efficiency, distributed renewables, and value-added services) in the same way it currently delivers electricity: at scales that will achieve cost savings, with high-quality service, and be paid for on customers’ electricity bills. This approach, if adopted, could allow the utility to diversify its business model while providing new services to customers and playing a pivotal role in the community’s energy transition.”


In brief, here are the essential tactics Fort Collins is depending on to meet its 2030 deadline:


  • Reduce building emissions by 40 percent through greater efficiency and distributed solar adoption
  • Reduce carbon emissions from the utility electricity system by 79 percent from 2005 levels
  • Reduce transportation carbon emissions by 57 percent from 2005 levels
  • Create a zero-waste community


While the above tactics are site-specific, if you looking to learn from Fort Collins’ approach to achieving far-reaching goals, here are the four core building blocks of their strategy.


  • A collaborative goal-setting process that engages community participation, dialogue, and engagement.
  • Creation of a new electric utility business paradigm to effectively finance and deliver energy efficiency services and support greater investment in distributed resources.
  • A comprehensive set of implementation strategies designed to achieve landmark levels of adoption of efficient and clean technologies in buildings, transportation, and other sectors—as well as the required behavioral changes necessary to realize savings.
  • Rapid scaling of key approaches and technologies to drive down costs.


Impressively, Fort Collins has set a new standard for community climate action. The city may even trigger the 100th monkey effect—the sudden spontaneous and mysterious leap of consciousness achieved when an allegedly "critical mass" point is reached. Through its bold commitment, Fort Collins underscores the point that net zero is no longer just a dream—it can actually constitute an action plan.

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