Air Quality in the Mile-High City

Written by Amanda Martinez, ESLLC 2017-2018

Denver is known for its access to the beautiful outdoors and its innovative spirit; however, what some people do not think about is its pollution problem. The geography of the city acts like a bowl, and traps in carbon emissions. This is known as the urban heat island effect, and results in Denver being several degrees warmer than neighboring regions. Because of this, the city has created a plan of action to increase air quality initiatives in the city by 2020 and 2050.


Air pollution continues to be a problem in Denver because nearly half our energy supply comes from coal. However, Xcel Energy announced last year that it will be partnering with Vestas, a Danish wind turbine manufacturer, to build a wind farm in Eastern Colorado. This will provide enough energy to power 325,000 homes.

Furthermore, the 2020 Sustainability Goals focus on air quality, among other important sectors of sustainability. A huge piece of the air quality goal is to lower our gas emissions. Though we have decreased our community-wide emissions by nearly 10 percent, we still have a way to go. By 2050, our goal is to decrease green house gas emissions by 80 percent. Evidently, 57 percent of emissions are from commercial and multi-family units in the city; therefore, Denver policy makers are primarily focusing on lowering these specifically.

Some of the efforts include: encouraging energy star scores for Denver buildings, energy consumption reports for buildings that exceed 25,000 square feet, pushing residents to use energy efficient appliances, and the Green Roof Initiative, which requires new developments or building additions that exceed 25,000 square feet to install a living rooftop garden that can include solar panels. Katrina Managan, Energy Efficient Buildings Lead at Denver Department of Public Health and Environment, stated at the Denver’s Climate Action Plan panel discussion in January that “We estimate that improving the energy efficiency in Denver’s buildings – if we could see $340 million invested in improving it – we could see $1.3 billion in energy savings”

What can we do?

The best way to individually combat Denver’s air quality crisis is to use the energy star scores and public reports to stay informed on what is going on. Furthermore, it is important to take our knowledge of the predicament and spread the word about Denver’s goals and the importance of energy efficiency. Voting brought us many of these initiatives; therefore, it is more important than ever to use our voices to express our concerns for Denver’s air quality, and become a more sustainably innovative city.

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