Energy program feels surge as plans for `green’ projects take off | AspenTimes.com

Energy program feels surge as plans for `green’ projects take off

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Enough sunlight falls on the typical local rooftop to generate sufficient electricity to heat all the hot water used in a household.

Factoids like that probably give the two-person staff at the local Community Office for Resource Efficiency the chills.

They are also the basis for a groundbreaking approach to energy conservation in Aspen and Pitkin County that has exceeded all expectations and overwhelmed the CORE staff.

Since the city and county established the Renewable Energy Mitigation Program, or REMP, two years ago, the program has collected $1.5 million in fees from homes that gobble energy and doled out $666,000 to projects that conserve energy.

For every heated driveway winding its way to a luxury mansion, REMP collects cash that is distributed, for example, to homeowners who install a solar-powered water heater on that sunlit roof.

This week, the Aspen City Council and county commissioners approved nine more expenditures of REMP monies, totaling $195,000. The projects were recommended by CORE, which oversees the program at the behest of the two governments.

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A 10th budget request – $65,000 for CORE itself – was also approved. It will allow the office to devote a full-time staffer to the energy program.

“REMP, we all thought, was going to be a small mouse of a program,” CORE director Randy Udall told the City Council on Monday. “The workload is beginning to overwhelm us at CORE, frankly, and the program deserves full-time attention.”

With the allocation, CORE’s second in command, engineer/coordinator Joani Matranga, will work full time on REMP, and CORE can hire help to handle some of its other responsibilities, Udall said.

In the past, CORE has collected 10 percent of REMP expenditures for developing and reviewing projects.

When the city and county building codes were revamped to establish REMP, CORE and local building officials guessed the program would take in $100,000 to $200,000 a year. Instead, it’s collecting some $65,000 a month.

“It’s a mixed blessing,” Udall said. “It’s a wonderful asset to have money that we can spend on renewable energy and energy efficiency here in the valley.

“At the same time, because the pot of money is so much bigger, it’s taking a lot of staff time,” he said. “To spend it wisely really takes some focus. It’s not something we can do part time anymore and do it justice.”

Measurable results

Fifteen projects already authorized by the city and county during the first two years of the program will keep an estimated 24 million pounds of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere over a 10-year period, according to Udall.

With REMP, the idea has always been to put the funds toward projects that more than offset the additional energy consumed or carbon dioxide emissions produced by the heated swimming pools and driveways that help generate the funds, he said.

To that end, the CORE staff carefully quantifies the environmental benefits of each project REMP funds.

The first two years of projects, some of which are ongoing, included: funding zero-interest loans for solar hot water and photovoltaic systems, contributing to a small hydropower system installed by two homeowners, paying rebates for solar hot water systems and energy-efficient washing machines, funding energy-efficient lighting retrofits and a host of other efforts in the public and private sectors.

The new slate of expenditures approved this week includes: $30,000 for new lighting in two county buildings; $25,000 to help launch an environmentally friendly construction program in Aspen and Pitkin County; $20,000 for energy-efficient appliances and other work at the planned Stillwater affordable housing project; $30,000 to purchase wind power; $15,000 for a photovoltaic system at the new restrooms under construction at Wagner Park; $20,000 in additional funding for solar hot water system rebates; $10,000 worth of small grants for various energy-saving projects; $40,000 for a solar hot water system at new worker housing under construction at Truscott Place and $5,000 to advertise REMP programs available to private citizens.

Among the program’s more time-consuming ongoing efforts is overseeing the energy systems that will be installed in the new recreation complex under construction at Iselin Park.

The building will contain two swimming pools and an ice rink.

“Mechanically, it’s probably the most complex building that we’ve ever built in this valley,” Udall said.

The building’s annual energy bills were first estimated at $250,000; CORE’s goal is to reduce them by 15 to 30 percent through better design.

Udall and Matranga have advised the building’s designers on insulation and glazing materials and a host of other technical issues.

In addition, $260,000 from REMP revenues has been allocated to equipment in the Iselin complex, including a microturbine that will burn natural gas to produce electricity. The hot exhaust will then help heat the swimming pools. Highly efficient motors and boilers will also go into the project, along with a solar hot water system, heat recovery system and natural ventilation system.

REMP is the only program of its kind in the country, but what’s truly groundbreaking, according to Udall, is the underlying philosophy that buildings should do more than sit around guzzling resources.

Builders of large homes can escape certain REMP fees, for example, by incorporating a solar hot water system or photovoltaic system into the house. If they don’t, they pay fees that help put those systems in other buildings.

Udall envisions a day when every community’s building codes require a structure to produce some of its own electricity or heat.

“Not only should a house have energy-efficient windows, it should do something – not just be on intensive care for the next 50 years,” he said.