Updated on January 20th, 2023
The Fort Collins Sustainability Group (FCSG) grew out of a meeting held in the spring of 2005, shortly after the Kyoto Protocol went into effect, among several people interested in getting the city to commit to reducing its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Over the following months, others who viewed such a commitment as a way to strengthen the local economy in the wake of high technology sector job losses joined the new organization.
Members of the FCSG soon learned that the Fort Collins City Council had passed a resolution in 1999 committing the city to reducing its GHG emissions significantly by 2010. However, we also learned that the city would fall far short of its goal unless additional actions were taken.
In response, the FCSG initiated a resolution to establish a “Climate Task Force” to develop a set of measures that could be taken to meet the goal established in 1999, which would also help strengthen the local economy. This resolution was passed by City Council in March 2007. The FCSG then actively participated in and supported the efforts of the Climate Task Force, which completed its proposed package of measures for City Council’s consideration in the spring of 2008.
Following the recommendations of both the FCSG and the Climate Task Force, City Council expressed its intent in May of 2008 to meet the original 2010 goal by 2012. Council also signaled its intent to continue reducing community-wide GHG emissions by establishing new goals for 2020 and 2050. In December of 2008, City Council passed a resolution to adopt the Climate Action Plan (CAP) that emerged from the Climate Task Force’s work, and to begin the process of implementation.
In January of 2009, the FCSG lobbied successfully for an electric energy policy efficiency and conservation goal that exceeds the Climate Task Force recommendation by 50%. Due in part to that effort, Fort Collins Utilities committed to reducing electric energy consumption in its service territory by 1.5% per year through 2020. The FCSG also provided input to City Council during the 2009 biennial budget process. In the end, the biennial budget provided funding for most measures in the Climate Action Plan, despite a somewhat difficult overall economic picture for the City.
The FCSG undertook two additional initiatives of note in 2009. The first was a pair of “Creative Climate Solutions Retreats” in the spring, which brought together community members (plus one employee of the City of Boulder) to develop breakthrough strategies on how Fort Collins might achieve 80% GHG emissions reductions by 2030, rather than by 2050 as established in the 2008 Climate Action Plan. The second was to bring together ten local organizations for a fall conference to form the “Northern Colorado E3 Sustainability Alliance,” or NCE3SA.
In 2010 and 2011, the FCSG dedicated itself to advocating for the implementation of a tiered residential electric rate by Fort Collins Utilities to encourage conservation and discourage waste. With support from the NCE3SA, we achieved success in December of 2011 when City Council adopted a three-tiered seasonal residential electric rate, which took effect in February of 2012. In the three-year period following implementation of the tiered rate, the average electric energy consumption per residential customer declined by an average of 0.9% per year compared to the three year average before implementation of the tiered rate.
In 2012, the FCSG facilitated the unification of the NCE3SA with Transition Fort Collins (TFC), which was part of the Colorado Transition Network and the world-wide Transition Movement. TFC continued to do good work in promoting community resilience for the following ten years. Unfortunately, TFC did not survive the COVID-19 pandemic and shuttered operations in 2022.
During the second half of 2012 and throughout 2013, the FCSG, TFC, and a new organization, Citizens for a Healthy Fort Collins, worked to limit the impact of oil and gas extraction, including fracking, on our city. We stressed the deleterious effects methane emissions from fracked wells have on the atmosphere and the climate. These efforts culminated in the passage of a citizens’ initiative to place a five-year moratorium on fracking within Fort Collins city limits and on city-owned land in November of 2013. Unfortunately, that moratorium was struck down by the State Supreme Court in 2016. The FCSG has continued to support statewide ballot initiatives, legislation, and rule-makings to limit oil and gas extraction since then.
In 2012 and 2013, the FCSG also focused on getting a cardboard recycling ordinance approved by City Council. At that time, cardboard represented about 10% of the municipal waste stream. In landfills, carbon decomposes into methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas. The ordinance, which was approved in March of 2013, prohibits the disposal of cardboard in the landfill, thereby both helping Fort Collins reduce its GHG emissions and achieve the then-current goal of diverting at least 50% of its solid waste away from landfills. At the end of 2013, City Council adopted new waste diversion goals of 75% by 2020, 90% by 2025, and 100% by 2030.
Beginning in the summer of 2013 and continuing through the spring of 2015, the City of Fort Collins engaged in a thorough re-examination of the Climate Action Plan and associated GHG emissions reduction goals it adopted in 2008. The FCSG was closely involved in this process, starting with a presentation by our Science Advisor, Scott Denning, to City Council in August of 2013. Scott subsequently developed a “CO2 and Climate Calculator” to help people explore the level of GHG emissions cuts needed to avoid catastrophic climate change. An updated version of that calculator, together with a video explaining how to use it, is available at https://www.focosustainability.org/co2-and-climate-calculator-and-video. The FCSG also participated in a Citizens Advisory Committee to help develop strategies that would enable the City to achieve some of the most ambitious climate goals in the world. In March of 2015, City Council adopted a new Climate Action Plan Framework that reaffirmed the 2020 goal of 20% emission reductions compared to 2005, and set new goals of 80% emissions reductions by 2030, and carbon neutrality by 2050. The 2030 goal is the same as that analyzed in the FCSG’s 2009 “Creative Climate Solutions Retreats.”
In 2015, the FCSG was instrumental in founding the Colorado Coalition for a Livable Climate (CCLC), which had 44 member organizations located throughout the State by January of 2023. The CCLC is dedicated to developing and advocating strategies for reducing Colorado’s greenhouse gas emissions to levels supportive of a livable climate. The CCLC focuses on state legislation, ballot initiatives, and Colorado’s public utilities. For more information concerning the CCLC, visit https://colivableclimate.org.
In 2017, several years of outreach by the FCSG to organizations and individual activists in the three other municipalities served by our electric generating utility, the Platte River Power Authority (PRPA), came to fruition via the establishment of the Northern Colorado Partners for Clean Energy (NCP4CE). The NCP4CE is a committee of the CCLC that advocates for decarbonizing the electric power supplied to Estes Park, Fort Collins, Longmont, and Loveland by 2030.
Partly due to pressure from NCP4CE member organizations, the PRPA published a study at the end of 2017 showing how it might achieve “Zero Net Carbon” by 2030. The NCP4CE sponsored two critiques of that study that were released in early 2018. Things moved quickly after that, with all four municipalities passing resolutions by early December supporting a goal of either 100% renewable or 100% non-carbon electricity by 2030. Fort Collins passed its 100% renewable electricity resolution in early October. The PRPA followed suit on December 6th by approving a “Resource Diversification Policy” that set a goal of 100% non-carbon electricity by 2030. In the years to come, the NCP4CE intends to work with the PRPA to help ensure that this goal is met.
In the summer of 2019, the FCSG and Extinction Rebellion Fort Collins introduced a Climate Emergency Resolution to City Council. Council passed a modified version of that resolution in August. While leaving the City’s goals for reducing community GHG emissions in place, the resolution does require City staff to review those goals every five years beginning in 2021, and consider changing them to ensure that they are in alignment with current scientific findings concerning the climate crisis. The resolution also requires the City to work to include representation from indigenous and other underrepresented communities on its CAP Community Advisory Committee.
Since at least 2011, the electronics manufacturer Broadcom (formerly Avago Technologies) has been the largest emitters of GHGs in Fort Collins, mostly in the form of fluorinated gases. Based on some pretty flimsy reasoning, however, those emissions were not counted as part of the Community GHG Inventory. In May of 2020, the FCSG succeeded in convincing City Council to direct staff to include Broadcom’s F-gas emissions in the Inventory.
In 2021, the FCSG began advocating for the establishment of an interim GHG emissions reduction goal midway between the City’s 2020 goal and its very ambitious 2030 goal. In October of 2022, City Council approved an interim goal of 50% GHG emissions reduction by 2026 compared to 2005 levels in the culmination of this effort.
Every year, the City of Fort Collins updates its GHG inventory. In both 2020 and 2021, community-wide GHG emissions were 24% lower than 2005 levels, despite the fact that Broadcom’s F-gas emissions were included in the inventory in both years. The City therefore “over-achieved” its 2020 goal, with a small assist from the COVID-19 pandemic. That progress was maintained in 2021, despite the easing of the pandemic and the associated increase in fossil-fuel powered travel. These lower emissions in 2020 and 2021 were due primarily to two factors: significant increases in the amount of wind- and solar-generated electricity delivered by the PRPA, and decreasing F-gas emissions by Broadcom. Broadcom’s F-gas emissions are still unacceptably high, however – 6.3% of total community emissions in 2021 – so more will likely need to be done to bring these emissions down if the City is to meet its ambitious 2026 interim goal.