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How the city is working toward making Denver more environmentally friendly

The City of Denver recently changed its environmental goals.

DENVER — The city of Denver recently updated some of its goals, working on a network of changes and spending millions of tax dollars to make the city more environmentally friendly.    

"This year, decided to align with the UN (United Nations) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which says we really need to eliminate all emissions by 2040," said Grace Rink, executive director of the Denver Office of Climate Action, Sustainability and Resiliency.

"We set that goal. So, we are aiming for a 65% reduction in emissions by 2030, which is a science based target, which accounts for not only actual emissions but also Denver's role as a part of the industrialized world that's produced more emissions than other parts of the planet. Then a hundred percent of reduction of emissions by 2040." 

The city has been working on going green for years but really gathered momentum in 2020, when Denver voters OK'd a sales tax increase to set aside $40 million a year for the cause.

"In April of 2020, there [were] 10 of us and a budget under $4 million for mostly staff, a little bit for professional services, like studies," said Rink. "Two years later, we have 37 staff  and a budget of over $45 million from the climate protection fund, plus some of our other revenue services."

While the city has some big goals, they know it comes with a big price tag. 

"In 2020 the Climate Action Task Force, made up of experts and residents throughout the city to define what Denver needs to do, they predicted a lot of money would be necessary by 2030. Their calculation was around $3 billion. I would like to say, I don't want people to panic over a big number like this," Rink said.

"Our city has already spent money. The city spent money on buildings and transportation and social services. All we need to do is get started and make sure we spend the money we have now in the right ways." 

Part of that is being smart about programs and solutions in certain neighborhoods. 

"We know our Black and Latino communities in Denver are more harmed by the impacts of climate change," said Rink. 

She said if they create policies and programs in disproportionately impacted neighborhoods, it will help make the whole city resilient, too.

RELATED: Denver's ozone status could move to 'severe': What would that mean?

Solar program

The money Denver has is being used for a series of projects that includes a community solar program.

The National Western Center is will be one of the first ones installing solar panels starting in the fall. 

"Between 5 and 10% of our power will come from this system," said Brad Buchanan, CEO of the National Western Center Authority.

Also in the network is Northeast Early College High School, in the Montbello neighborhood, where a car port with solar panels will be built. 

"Focused on environmental justice in areas which might not have a lot of access to renewables," said Leeann Kittle, the director of sustainability for Denver Public Schools (DPS).

The city-wide solar program includes energy donations to low-income DPS families to lower their electric bills by as much as 30%. 

Kittle said while the energy will be produced at several spots around the city, including the DPS high school, some of the energy goes back on Xcel's grid and credit will be given to families on their utility bills. 

Kittle said pairing with the city fits well after a group of students have been pushing for more environmental justice. 

While the plan was to build the solar car port at Northeast this summer, supply chain issues have delayed it to next year. 

"Forty percent will power city buildings," said Rink about the community solar program. "The rest of the power will go to residents of the Denver Housing Authority and also low income families who come to our subscription program through DPS."

Rink hopes families will be able to enroll into the program by the end of the year.


In addition to the solar community program, the city gave a grant to expand a program for e-bikes in Denver. 

Nick Glenn is with the Northeast Transportation Connections group. He said through the city grant, they were able to add a third spot for their e-bike library. 

"Helping get out of single occupant vehicles riding around and cutting out one or two trips a day helping with the environment," Glenn said.

We met him Friday at the Focus Points Family Resource Center, which is significant because of the 80216 zip code

"One of the most polluted in the nation," said Glenn. 

The other two spots are at Prodigy Coffee, as well as at the Tiny Home Village, which Glenn said has helped fill a gap. 

The tiny home village helps with housing for those experiencing homelessness and the e-bikes can help with people who need transportation while searching for a job. 

Glenn said there is a $20 a year fee but that if a person can't afford it, they give them a bike anyway.

What else?

As for how to achieve zero emissions, Rink pointed to a new requirements for buildings over 25,000 square feet to cut down emissions. Rink believes by 2040, that will reduce green house gas emissions from those buildings alone by 80%. 

She also hopes more people will utilize public transportation.

Rink also acknowledged there are a lot of unknowns, including federal regulations for things like truck emissions on highways that the city doesn't have control over. 

The city is also working on several other programs including:

  • Workforce development training and apprenticeship programs for under-served individuals, creating career pathways for increasingly in-demand green jobs
  • Building retrofits for human-service providers to go all-electric, move away from the steam loop system and avoid fossil fuels.
  • And coming in a matter of weeks, rebates of up to $400 for anyone 16+ to purchase an e-bike, and rebates of up to $9000 for homeowners to install electric heating and cooling, solar panels, battery storage, and/or EV charging.

RELATED: A Lakewood building once used to make bullets is now geared to fight climate change

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