Street sweeper file photo

A recent UW study compiled the carbon dioxide emissions from each city department, with the Public Works Department seeing highest amount of emissions out of each department. The Streets Division and Solid Waste Division are part of the Public Works department.

The city of Laramie now has a better picture of what kind of carbon footprint municipal operations are making.

During a work session Tuesday, the Laramie City Council was presented with emissions data completed by students during a spring sustainability capstone course and through UW senior Xanthe Yorke’s summer internship through the University of Wyoming’s Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources.

Through the spring and summer, students including Yorke worked to find an emissions calculator, settling on a free option available through the Environmental Protection Agency. The calculator allowed her to separate the emissions by department, which is one of the primary reasons it was chosen.

“I wanted to get a better idea of where those emissions are coming from and what specifically we can do to tackle or reduce those emissions,” Yorke explained.

The calculator’s data shows the city department with the highest emissions is the Public Works Department, which includes the Streets Division and the Solid Waste Division, at 3,583.14 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.

It’s followed by the Laramie Police Department at 2,855.60 metric tons, mostly due to vehicles. The Parks and Recreation Department followed with 2,809.31 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, mostly due to vehicles, equipment, buildings and infrastructure.

Carbon dioxide equivalent includes other gasses like methane and nitrous oxide in addition to carbon dioxide.

Councilman Bryan Shuster said he wasn’t convinced the data accurately represented city diesel truck emissions, saying federal diesel regulations have made it to where “they’re not putting out carbon dioxide and everything like they used to.”

“With the current emission standards for vehicles, I think your figure is a little high,” he said.

The calculator was detailed enough to include make, model, year and more for each city vehicle, Yorke said.

Outside of any specific department, Yorke noted of all the city’s 257 full-time employees, 99.94% drive their car alone to work, and the average commute is about four miles each way.

Following the presentation, Monika Leininger and Edward Koncel of the Alliance for Renewable Energy presented about the group’s goal for the city to work toward having net-zero emissions.

The ARE collaborated with the Haub school on Yorke’s project as well.

Koncel presented examples of what other cities are implementing or trying as they work to become carbon neutral within the next 10-15 years, including solar panels, electric vehicles and various incentives to encourage residents to follow suit.

While the group isn’t formally requesting the Council adopt a similar policy — yet — Koncel noted the city has a potential funding opportunity for clean energy infrastructure like solar power. One grant in particular, through Rocky Mountain Power’s Blue Sky program, is on the group’s radar as a source for potential renewable energy funding.

He noted only one Wyoming project received Blue Sky funding last year, The Downtown Clinic, which used it to install the solar panels that now provide 98% of its energy usage.

The grant funds won’t be available again, however, until 2020.

Excited about the chance for grant funding, the Council expressed interest in looking into potential renewable energy projects to be sure a grant application is ready once funds are available.

City staff said they’re working to have potential ideas ready for when the Council approves the budget for the next fiscal year in the spring.

One member of the public, Erik Molvar, pointed out while it can take a few years to see a return on investment on something like solar panels, some municipal investments like streets never see a return on investment at all and “only depreciate.”

“From a financial standpoint, I think that the time is now to start investing in this kind of infrastructure so that we can start that clock running,” Molvar said. “We can start getting those things paid off, we can start collecting money … from our clean energy.”

(1) comment


While it’s good that UW spent the time to analyze the issue, I think it’s helpful to reflect for a moment on what these numbers really mean from a practical standpoint. The study notes that the city government’s three largest producers of greenhouse gases combine for a total of just over 9,000 metric tons of CO2-equivalent emissions annually. For comparison, global annual greenhouse gas emissions are on the order of 50 billion metric tons, or 5.6 million times larger than the aforementioned city-specific figure. The notion that there’s any real urgency (or benefit) in the city diverting hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars to address this is of dubious merit.

For example, the article cites representatives of the Alliance for Renewable Energy as proposing that the city could achieve net-zero carbon emissions by investing in a combination of electric vehicles (EVs) and solar panels. For the sake of argument, if the city were to purchase a small fleet of 25 EVs at a conservative cost of $40,000 each, that’s one million USD. What practical impact on climate change do we expect that this million-dollar investment could have? Furthermore, if the EVs are being recharged via connection to the existing electric grid, where the bulk of the electricity is being generated by burning coal and natural gas (as is usually the case in Wyoming), the benefit becomes even foggier. Regarding solar panels, studies of their cost-effectiveness generally conclude that they’re a wash, at least in the sense that end up costing as much up-front as the cost of conventional power over an installation's 20-year lifespan. Certainly, solar panels emit very little in the way greenhouse gasses (ignoring their manufacturing, of course), but again, is the relatively paltry reduction in CO2 (coupled with the need to still draw energy from the existing grid) really worth the investment for a small town like Laramie?

It seems that these kinds of environmental initiatives are usually born out of an ideological need to feel like we’re doing something, even if it means generating lopsided costs somewhere else. There’s a romantic notion that “even little changes can make a big difference,” and this kind of thinking gets imported into environmental activism far too often. The reality, however, is that the great bulk of climate-impacting greenhouse gases are generated by industrial processes that lie far, far outside the scope of a small town’s ability to address them. Laramie need not spend itself into debt just so a handful of activists can purchase a sense of virtue.

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