Eagle County vote on energy loans appears likely
August 19, 2009
EAGLE COUNTY, Colo. – Voters in Eagle County will probably be asked this fall to approve a plan that would let home owners take out loans from the county for energy-saving home improvements, then pay back those loans on their property tax bills.
The Eagle County Commissioners told staff members to keep working on the ballot issue. The commissioners have until Sept. 4 to make a final decision.
The loans were made possible by the Colorado Legislature earlier this year, and Boulder County has already adopted a program. County officials are using the Boulder County model as the basis for a possible program in Eagle County. Pitkin County is pursuing a similar program, which it also intends to take to voters in November.
The biggest possible advantage to the plan is that homeowners won’t need to come up with any up-front money to pay for improvements – which can range from upgrades to insulation, windows, furnaces and water heaters to rooftop solar panels. Instead, homeowners would take out a loan from a county fund, then repay the loan through an increase to their property taxes.
Yuri Kostick, of Eagle County’s environmental sustainability office, said the loans could be funded by bonds issued by the county, or a multi-county region. The loans could also be funded from county reserves if there’s little demand.
Homeowners would also cover the administrative and other costs of the programs through application fees. But the loans would stay with the home, meaning the next owners would continue to pay for the improvements if the original owner sold.
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People who take out home equity loans for improvements are responsible for the whole bill even if they sell a few years down the road.
Commissioner Sara Fisher asked if the program isn’t asking homeowners to go deeper into debt in a time when many people are in too much debt to start.
Alex Potente, of the county’s housing department, acknowleged that homeowners would be taking out loans. But, he added, the home improvements the loans pay for are intended to put money into people’s pockets in the form of lower utility bills. The savings are intended to more than pay for loan payments.
And it doesn’t take much of an improvement to save a lot of money, especially in an old house.
Matt Scherr of the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability told the commissioners that he saved 50 percent on his winter gas bill by putting a lot of insulation into his home in Minturn.
While backers believe the loan program doesn’t have much in the way of downside, the commissioners had several questions.
Fisher asked what will happen if a homeowner receives shoddy work from a contractor.
That’s a detail that would have to be worked out when the program is finalized, Kostick said.
Another detail that would be worked out later is the interest rate on loans. Part of that would depend on what kind of bonds end up being used, and how much it costs to issue those bonds.
But, backers said, the potential advantages of the program make it worthwhile to answer those and other questions.
“I’d love to see it pass, both for my business and to upgrade the 25-year-old boiler in my house,” builder John Gitchell said.
Megan Gilman, co-owner of Active Energies, said putting a lot of “green renovation” jobs on the market could also help the county’s struggling construction industry.
“I have a vested interest in this, but this is a huge opportunity for jobs,” Gilman said.
The commissioners seemed to agree that the program is worth taking to the voters.
“It’s the right thing to do and I’m confident we can work out issues,” Commissioner Jon Stavney said.