Community Office for Resource Efficiency gets economic energy boost from city of Aspen
Aspen City Council agrees to $1.2M in funding for next year to electrify the valley
A local nonprofit that for almost 30 years has worked to reduce energy consumption and is now zeroing in on a carbon-free, net-zero future for the Roaring Fork Valley received initial support from Aspen’s elected officials Monday to receive $1.2 million next year.
As a check-in with Aspen City Council to gauge how it feels about releasing money from a fund that generates revenue through mitigation fees for energy-sucking developments, Mona Newton, executive director for the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, gave officials an update on what the organization has accomplished and where it’s going in the future.
This year has served as a transition year for CORE, as its main funding source, the Renewable Energy Mitigation Program, is beginning to dry up as new construction is bound by stricter building codes that require energy efficiency measures.
That has dramatically reduced CORE’s funding from Pitkin County’s REMP fund, and has put the reliance on the city, which doesn’t have as strict building codes.
Newton had initially considered asking the city for $1.7 million for 2022, but given the REMP fund’s questionable sustainability, CORE decided to err on the conservative side.
“With the decline of the REMP dollars, we know that we need to diversify our funding sources in order to continue reducing carbon, we need resources, we need staffing, we need financial wherewithal to make this work,” Newton told council during its work session Monday.
She noted that in 2020 and the first part of this year, CORE has been able to lock in $225,000 in new donations and grants, including from Eagle County to provide services in the Basalt area.
CORE also is working with the Colorado Energy Office, which is providing support in training for staff, according to Newton.
She and the nonprofit’s board and staff are following legislation that could create new funding from the state for climate action.
Consulting services is something CORE is considering for new homeowners or those wanting to do remodels and home energy rating systems.
Newton said CORE also is hiring a grant specialist to find additional funding sources.
Councilman Ward Hauenstein, who serves as the city representative on the CORE board, said he would like to see the nonprofit work with other government agencies in their grant making efforts.
“I think the budget request is somewhere around 61 percent from the city of the total CORE budget,” he said, “and I’d like to see you come back in August and say that the percentage is down to less than 50 percent, like the way it was a couple of years ago.”
Aspen and Pitkin County used to give CORE the same amount of REMP revenue each year, but the nonprofit is leaning on the city more these days as the county’s contributions are drying up.
CORE’s budget is expected to be just over $1.9 million in 2022. In 2020, the city gave CORE $1.4 million and the county contributed $270,000 from REMP.
It’s unknown how much money is in the county’s REMP fund for 2022, and the city’s collections are difficult to estimate since they are dependent on construction activity.
That’s why the city budgets conservatively, according to Finance Director Pete Strecker.
The city’s REMP fund balance is roughly $4 million, which is better than projected because revenue came in above the conservative estimate in 2020.
The estimate was $800,000 and $1.2 million was generated. But there are projects in the city’s climate action office that will likely compete for REMP funds.
Mayor Torre said Monday he has budgetary concerns about spending down the fund but is prepared to consider the financial request, which will become more formal during budget sessions this fall.
“I think you’ve done a great presentation and keeping it clear about what CORE’s responsibilities and role is,” he said. “It’s nice to see that the request amount has gone down from last year, so we’re trending on maybe the right target.”
The council was unanimous in its support for what CORE has done over the years and its newfound mission of a decarbonized Roaring Fork Valley, exceeding the state timetable by achieving 100% carbon-free for the city and county by 2040.
Since its inception, CORE has given away almost $10 million in energy efficient grants to local residents for home upgrades and renewable energy installations for public buildings and incentives for businesses to do the same.
“For every REMP dollar spent (it is) multiplied six times, and on the carbon side it is multiplied three times … for every ton of carbon that’s paid for by REMP, CORE actually removes that up to three times,” Newton said. “In 2019, we distributed $1.3 million in rebates and grants and that was leveraged with $10 million in partner funds and those project costs totaled about $37 million.”
CORE’s goals going forward are to assist neighboring towns on their climate action plans, lower energy use in commercial buildings and head toward 100% electrification, among other things.
Newton will go before council in August to present any new information on other funding mechanisms and CORE’s programs.
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