Energy fees on large Pitkin County homes may skyrocket

Building a large home in Pitkin County could become a lot more expensive in the near future.

That’s because the fee the county currently charges to offset the energy consumption of homes larger than 5,750 square feet may end up 60 times higher than the current rate if changes discussed Tuesday by Pitkin County commissioners end up in the rule books.

And even that might not be enough to control the growth and corresponding energy-suck of future super mansions with electric snowmelt driveways and garden paths and Olympic-sized swimming pools and hot tubs, commissioners said.

“It’s not an impediment to wealthy, second-home owners to pay (these fees) and not consider the impacts they have,” Commissioner George Newman said. “It’s a drop in the bucket.

“Frankly, I think the elephant in the room is an elephant. The room is so large you can’t even see the elephant.”

Commissioner Greg Poschman agreed, saying that it should be the board’s “ambition” to limit the size of homes in the county and, thus, limit the consumption of energy.

Commissioner Rachel Richards suggested simply forcing large homes over 8,000 square feet to be “net-zero” — meaning they generate as much energy as they use — or energy-producers. A recent study determined that buildings are the largest contributor of greenhouse gases in Pitkin County, said Ellen Sassano, county long-range planner.

Tuesday’s discussion centered on the county’s Renewable Energy Mitigation Program — commonly known as REMP — and efforts to increase the program’s fee structure so it better reflects the actual costs of offsetting 100 percent of the energy use associated with a building.

The largest increase talked about Tuesday would be based on a home’s square footage, said Brian Pawl, the county’s chief building inspector.

Currently, owners of homes with more than 5,750 square feet pay a REMP fee of $1 a square foot for each square foot above that number, he said. County staff is recommending an increase to $45 a square foot for homes between 5,750 and 8,250 square feet, and $60 a square foot for homes larger than 8,250 square feet, according to documents supplied to commissioners.

That means owners of a 6,500-square-foot home would pay a REMP fee of $33,750 instead of $750 for the extra 750 square feet. Owners of a 9,000-square-foot house would pay a REMP fee of $195,000 instead of $6,250 for the extra 3,250 square feet.

Staff and the county’s planning and zoning commission also recommended doubling the REMP fee for energy use associated with snowmelt from $34 a square foot to $68 a square foot. Currently snowmelt systems are limited to covering a maximum of 6,000 square feet per property, which could be reduced, according to memo from Pawl, Sassano and Community Development Director Cindy Houben.

There is no limitation, however, on the size of pools and hot tubs in Pitkin County, the memo states. Pawl said 1 in 5 new house permits requests a pool, and that staff has received at least one recent request for an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

Staff recommended that pool and hot tub size be limited, though the Planning and Zoning Commission did not support that, according to the memo. The commission also didn’t support reducing the square footage of patios, decks and driveways snowmelt systems can cover, the memo states.

Other proposals outlined for commissioners Tuesday included charging a REMP fee for heat tape used on roofs to melt snow, limiting or charging a fee for winter construction when sites are often heated, requiring on-site construction inspections to encourage additional energy efficiency and encouraging on-site energy mitigation systems rather than off-site remedies.

Further ideas included requiring remodels of existing buildings and homes to conform to the energy code — they are currently exempted — and requiring builders to submit a deconstruction plan where 50 percent of materials from a torn-down structure are reused or recycled.

Pawl said the money collected from large homes can be used to subsidize energy-efficient remodeling for smaller homes.

Board Chairwoman Patti Clapper liked the idea of helping make existing residences more energy efficient.

“We need to encourage people to build smaller homes,” Clapper said, “and we need to assist them in doing that.”

She also said she supported deconstruction plans, citing recent walks in Aspen’s West End where she noticed “a demo about every single block.”

“We know where all that demolition waste is going,” Clapper said, alluding to Pitkin County’s landfill, which is rapidly reaching its capacity.

Commissioners did not make any decisions Tuesday about the new fees or regulations.