Energy-saving fees fueling a unique program in Aspen | AspenTimes.com
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Energy-saving fees fueling a unique program in Aspen

Janet Urquhart

Upvalley residents who purchase an energy-efficient washing machine could receive a $100 rebate, thanks to someone else’s energy-gobbling hot tub.

The washing machine rebate is one of seven energy-saving proposals totaling about $200,000 that won approval from the Aspen City Council this week. Other proposals include boiler replacement and a solar-powered system to heat water at a Snowmass Village affordable housing complex and an energy-producing turbine at the new Iselin Park recreational complex.

The projects are to be funded with fees paid by homebuilders for homes that use more energy than the Aspen/Pitkin County Conservation Code allows.

The proposals, put forth by the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, must also receive the county’s OK. They will go to the county commissioners next week.

The city/county building codes were revamped a year ago to establish the Renewable Energy Mitigation Program, or REMP – a joint effort of the building department and CORE. Basically, the code establishes an energy budget for homes, based on square footage. Homeowners who want to exceed that budget with such amenities as heated driveways, spas and swimming pools must either install a renewable-energy system of their own to offset that extra energy use or pay into the REMP fund.

For houses of more than 5,000 square feet, a $5,000 fee is mandatory unless the homeowner installs a solar-powered water heater or photovoltaic system. The fee jumps to $10,000 for a 10,000-square-foot home.

The program is the only one of its kind in the country and has been successful beyond expectations, according to Randy Udall, director of CORE.

Since the program was put in place 11 months ago, more than $550,000 has been collected. Last spring, the city and county approved spending $165,000 in REMP funds on seven projects. Udall is now seeking approval for a second round of programs.

“We’re all amazed at how much money has been collected,” Udall said. “It’s astounding. It has been remarkably successful.

“What we’ve got is more than we expected to have, so we’re looking at a wide range of ways we can use it.”

Among the latest round of projects, for example, is the provision of three Toyota Prius hybrid-electric cars for a car-sharing program at Aspen’s Truscott Place affordable housing project.

CORE had actually proposed leasing 10 cars – three for Truscott and one for each government jurisdiction in the valley. REMP funds were to pay half of the monthly lease, but the City Council balked at using the funds to lease cars for governments outside Pitkin County.

Council members also directed Udall to scratch a photovoltaic demonstration project in Glenwood Springs from the list. They want to discuss the out-of-county expenditures with county commissioners first.

“I’d like to see the money raised in Pitkin County spent in Pitkin County,” said Councilman Tom McCabe.

Where the money is spent is a philosophical discussion the county and city need to have, Udall agreed.

“The CORE board would like to see the geographic boundaries for the REMP program as large as possible,” he added.

Wherever the money is spent, 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 swimming pools and hot tubs that generate the funds, according to Udall.

Nonetheless, allowing a homebuilder to exceed the energy code restrictions was a matter of some soul-searching at the program’s inception, Udall conceded.

“All of us debated, are we just letting rich people pollute and use exorbitant amounts of energy, or can we justify it by leveraging the funds to do some good things all over the valley?” he said.

Udall believes the program’s benefits outweigh, for example, an outdoor, year-round heated swimming pool.

That pool, he said, generated a payment into the REMP fund of about $80,000.

That kind of money will allow the city to outfit the new ice rink and swimming pools planned at Iselin Park with energy-efficient systems it would not otherwise have been able to afford, according to Udall.

The complex, for example, will have the most energy-efficient boilers available, he said. Also planned is a $55,000 turbine system to produce energy on-site. It will save the city an estimated $5,000 a year on Iselin energy bills and keep more than 500,000 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the air each year, according to CORE.

The REMP program allows CORE to collect up to 10 percent in fees for developing and reviewing projects. CORE received $15,000 for the first phase of projects and would get $20,000 for the latest proposals.


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