Energy abuse and second homes

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

The study was commissioned by The Sopris Foundation, a nonprofit 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.

Pipe 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 theAspen 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 ways to go.

Still to be addressed is the biggest elephant in the room, the fuel use of Aspen’s jet set. 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 the result of transportation, particularly jets.


USFS faces high fire fighting costs

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – The high cost of fighting forest and other wildland fires is sobering. Earlier this summer, for example,the U.S. Forest Servicewas bleeding $1.5 million per day fighting the Angora Fire at Lake Tahoe. Altogether last year, the agency spent $1.5 billion on fires.

For years, critics have said that the agency is addicted to fires. Come fire season, everybody from archaeologists to silvaculturists peel off to fires, making overtime wages while engaging in a paramilitary effort.

The Los Angeles Times also notes the expenses: $80,000 an hour for rental of firefighting helicopters at one fire in California, and seasonal firefighters, making much less than most permanent agency employees, pulling down as much as $23 an hour. And with such hard work to do, meals are calculated for 6,000 calories a day, which comes to $47 per person.

The nagging question is whether fire policy has really changed all that much. The congressional General Accountability Office says the agency hasn’t clearly defined how it intends to cut back costs.

Tom Harbour, the agency’s director of fire and aviation management, told theTimes that officials have renewed their vow to let fires in some areas long untouched by flame burn for the well-being of the forest. Harbour suggested that firefighters would steer clear of heroic measures to save remote, wood-shingled forest hideaways surrounded by cascades of flammable shrubbery.

But critics say more can be done. Among them is Tim Ingalssbee, a former seasonal firefighter who now teaches at the University of Oregon.

“About 45 percent of the Forest Service’s budget is related to fire, and that’s a big source of the problem,” he said. “The agency sees its money train hitched to fire.” He said contracts can be bloated, and that the Forest Service hasn’t made use of prescribed fire as it should.


Small hamlet does the old pickup justice

RED CLIFF – An art show was held over the weekend in Red Cliff, a one-time mining town located two ridges and sometimes a world apart from Vail. The town’s artists opened their homes for inspection of photographs from Asia, paintings of mountainsides and creeks, and in one home, renderings of old, weathered pickups.

Abandoned pickups and cars just a couple of winters ago were common in Red Cliff. Set up on blocks, they would be squeezed in next to houses or behind sheds. At one time, dozens were deposited along the Eagle River.

In most of America, such “dead” pickups are dealt with summarily by homeowner associations and assorted other police of tidiness. This is true, too, of old mountain towns.

But Red Cliff has been an anachronism. Only eight miles aside Interstate 70, that great arterial agent of change, Red Cliff for many years has remained true to its dowdy, blue-collar mining town roots.

The town is also distinctive for its cramped geography. The slopes of Battle and Hornsilver mountains squeeze tightly. By comparison, the valley where Aspen is located seems like the Great Plains. Even the old baseball field, which serves double-duty as a snow storage lot during big-snow winters, is on a tilt. If not for the nearby mines, nothing could have justified a town in such a location.

– compiled by Allen Best

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