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Garfield County giving thought to energy improvements district

John Stroud
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Garfield County is pondering the first step to be able to offer loans to property owners to make energy improvements to their homes or businesses.

But one county commissioner believes the decision to form a countywide clean energy finance district should be left up to voters, not the county commissioners.

“I have a philosophical problem with county government being in the loan and finance business … that’s not government’s job,” County Commission Chairman John Martin said at a Tuesday work session with Garfield New Energy Communities Initiative (GNECI) representatives to discuss forming the district.

City and town councils of each of Garfield County’s six municipalities have signed letters of support for the county to form the district, and to put a question on the November ballot asking county voters to allow bonds to be issued using state and federal grant money to fund the program.

“I’d much rather see a vote of the people to create the district, and to decide on a bonding mechanism,” Martin said.

Tuesday’s discussion came as neighboring counties are moving forward with their own plans to offer loans to property owners to make energy improvements, such as solar installations and energy efficiency upgrades.

Eagle County commissioners on Tuesday authorized initial funding for the voter-approved Energy Smart Program, part of a three-county energy improvement district – including Pitkin and Gunnison counties – that was approved by voters last fall.

The program provides fixed-interest loans to property owners for qualified energy improvements. The loans are paid back over a period of time as an add-on to the borrower’s property tax bill.

Eagle County voters authorized up to $10 million in bonds to fund the loan program, while Pitkin County agreed to $7 million and Gunnison County’s program is for $3 million.

Gov. Bill Ritter is also in Aspen Wednesday to sign SB 100, allowing even more flexibility to create cross-boundary energy improvement districts.

The effort also ties in with the goals of another recently passed piece of legislation, HB 1328, the New Energy Jobs Creation Act.

“We are looking to the commissioners to invest in the people of Garfield County to move this district forward and to help put people back to work,” said Rifle Mayor Keith Lambert – who sits on the GNECI advisory board – at Tuesday’s meeting with the commissioners.

“This is a mechanism to help allow that to happen,” he said.

Before Garfield County can go to voters to set up bonding to begin to offer loans, it must first take the initiative to form a clean energy improvement district.

County commissioners can form the district by resolution. Or, as commissioner Martin suggested, it can ask voters to both form the district and authorize bonding.

Even though no direct county tax dollars are involved, Martin said he’ll have to overcome his philosophical differences with the concept before he can move forward.

“It’s still tax dollars, even if it’s federal dollars,” he said. “I just don’t think this is government’s job.”

Commissioner Tresi Houpt supports forming the district by resolution.

“The district will only impact those people who opt in,” she said. “This is just a tool to use the money that we’ve been granted.”

Further discussion about forming the district will take place at the regular May 10 county commissioners meeting.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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