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Aspen council hears details of energy-efficiency program

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

ASPEN – The Aspen City Council on Monday learned details about a proposed pilot program to boost the energy efficiency of older units in the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority’s inventory.

Council members didn’t have a lot to say about the program, which seeks to add the cost of improvements onto the price of the units when they are sold. Three weeks ago, Pitkin County commissioners expressed reservations about the idea, with one commissioner saying there is already a growing disparity between what workers can afford and the available housing stock through the city-county program.

Lauren McDonell, the city’s environmental initiative program manager, presented the concept to county commissioners on Feb. 28 and to the council at Monday’s work session. Because the housing authority is run jointly by city and county government, both the Board of County Commissioners and the City Council must give their blessings to the program.

McDonell said that while the cost of the upgrades would be passed on to those buying units – perhaps through an estimated $2,000 or $3,000 additional cost to the new mortgage, depending on the unit size – the purchasers would ultimately save money through cheaper monthly utility bills.

Homebuyers wouldn’t have to add the cost onto their mortgages, she said. There is the option of paying for the improvements outright or getting a low-interest loan on the improvements alone.

McDonnell called the initiative “a great opportunity to address some energy-efficiency needs,” given statistics showing that 40 percent of energy consumption occurs in buildings, with residences accounting for 55 percent of that amount.

“And I think we can all think of some (housing authority) units that could use some TLC in the energy-efficiency area,” she said. “This project that we’re working on has a chance to significantly improve not just energy efficiency but also the comfort and health of affordable-housing units.”

She discussed a few details of the proposed program, saying sellers could be offered financial incentives for providing access to their properties for an energy-efficiency assessment. If sellers agree to the assessment, improvements on the units could be completed before the sale’s closing. Should sellers deny the assessment, the improvements can be done after the closing, McDonell said.

She showed an example of approximate costs. On $3,000 worth of improvements, the approximate monthly increase to a mortgage payment would be about $8.33. Through increased energy efficiency, a homeowner would save $8.33 or more.

Mayor Mick Ireland said the proposal has merit, but he said homebuyers need to be shown that the utility-bill savings would far outweigh the added cost. McDonell said whether the savings would exceed the cost of improvements might be determined during the yearlong pilot program.

Tom McCabe, executive director of the housing authority, said it’s important to keep the improvements at a price level that allows homebuyers to easily recoup the costs.

Ireland suggested that the city should seek federal grants to support the program.

Council members and commissioners will decide whether to launch the program at a joint meeting that has yet to be scheduled.

asalvail@aspentimes.com


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