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Energy program might not hit goal

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

ASPEN – Nearly 1,000 households in a three-county area that includes Pitkin County have jumped at the chance for a home-energy assessment through the Energy Smart program, which wrapped up its first full year of operation in 2011.

The program’s goal is to reach 4,100 homes in three years, but it might not make it.

Administrators of the program in Pitkin County are targeting multi-family complexes along with single-family residences to help reach the mark, but they concede that it could fall short of the numbers outlined in an application for the Department of Energy grant that launched the effort. The federal agency awarded $4.9 million to the three-county initiative.

In seeking the funding, Pitkin, Eagle and Gunnison counties outlined a plan to achieve energy savings of 20 percent or more in at least 10 percent of existing homes, or 4,100 residences across the three counties.

“We set incredibly aggressive goals for ourselves,” said Katherine Dart, the program’s manager in Pitkin County. “If we don’t reach it, all is not lost.”

Dart updated county commissioners last week on the program’s activities through 2011.

While Energy Smart might not hit the hard numbers of its target goals by the time the program ends in August 2013, it will achieve the broader aspirations of raising awareness about the environmental and financial benefits of home energy improvements and of training and putting to work local contractors in the growing field of energy work, Dart said. The jobs component is key in spending the stimulus dollars.

There is no penalty for failing to reach 4,100 residences, Dart added, predicting that the program will expend all of its funding nonetheless.

For now, residents of the three counties continue to have access to the $50 home assessment, worth as much as $100 worth of “quick fixes” that are offered on the spot, such as the installation of programmable thermostats and other measures. In some homes, the assessments have led to the detection of carbon monoxide or radon issues, according to Dart.

So far, 988 home assessments have been done in the three counties, including 382 in Pitkin County. Home energy improvements that resulted from the assessments or from Energy Smart Colorado rebates totaled 474 throughout the counties. Thirty-eight percent of the assessments led to further energy upgrades, according to Dart’s report.

In Pitkin County, five multi-family complexes have enrolled in the program, including several in Snowmass Village. Hunter Creek in Aspen will bring nearly 200 residences into the program this year, Dart said.

Coming this spring is the establishment of a $1 million revolving loan fund for energy improvements that will continue to exist after the program ends. The average cost of home upgrades among program participants is about $1,600, according to Dart.

Because participants must provide access to their utility bills for one year prior to the improvements and three years afterward, the impact of energy improvements will be traceable, she said.

Though it is a three-county program, participants can sign up on a first-come, first-served basis. Enrollment isn’t limited to one-third from each county.

Pitkin County has accounted for slightly more than a third of the assessments and retrofits done to date, according to Dart.

Go to http://www.energysmartcolorado.com for more information.

Energy Smart, incidentally, is not the only option for homeowners seeking an energy assessment of their residence.

In the city of Aspen, for example, electric and water customers can sign up for an energy audit through a separate city program.

janet@aspentimes.com


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