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Boulder: We Can’t Even Change Our Own Light Bulbs?

3/9/2010 12:00:00 AM

Tags: Boulder, Colorado

I’m bothered by this news of my town.

I live in Boulder, Colorado, where we consider ourselves greenest of all (and we’re always ranked high in those polls). We live in a beautiful spot that we’ve done a lot to preserve, and we all talk a good game when it comes to the environment. But we love our cars and our gadgets, and we’re not big on saving energy.

broken incandescent light bulb
Boulder city officials are sending contractors door-to-door to make simple energy-efficient changes, including changing light bulbs. NH Archives. 

Jim Logan, a local architect who’s been building green since the 1970s, loves to taunt Boulderites with a presentation in which he shows them how much greater their carbon footprint is per capita than New Yorkers’. Some of the audience members literally refuse to believe that could be true—until a bunch of us admit that we haul our bikes around in cars before riding them. Our big, open space lifestyles take a lot of energy—most of it powered by coal and petroleum. 

But we Boulderites want to do the right thing. In 2006, we passed a highly publicized carbon tax, requiring every household to pay $21 per year to fund energy-conservation programs. Each family’s $21 has subsidized about 150 home and business energy audits, designed to get people motivated to make energy-efficient improvements. Good idea. But follow-up surveys found that half of the homeowners didn’t make even the smallest recommended changes. Businesses made so few changes that they saved only about one-fifth of the energy that auditors estimated they were wasting.

Since the tax was passed in 2006, Boulder’s carbon emissions have decreased by less than 1 percent. Never one to give up easily, Boulder is now sending contractors door-to-door to make the simplest energy-efficient changes for homeowners—including changing light bulbs. The city will spend about $1.5 million in city funds and $370,000 in federal stimulus money on “Two Techs in a Truck,” up to 15 teams that will caulk, change light bulbs, install low-flow showerheads, set up clothes racks and even inflate tires for Boulder homeowners who never followed up on their audits.

Do you want to live here, or what? You can call yourself green, and you don’t even have to change your own light bulb.

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