Garfield County mulls energy improvement district |

Garfield County mulls energy improvement district

GARFIELD COUNTY – Garfield County’s New Energy Communities Initiative is again gauging support to form and finance a local energy improvements district in the county, following the lead of three other neighboring counties that did so last year.

If enough support comes from individual municipalities to form the district, a question could be on the November ballot asking Garfield County voters to allow bonds to be issued.

The bonds would be used to set up a fund for qualified residential and commercial property owners to tap into to do a variety of energy efficiency upgrades, such as solar photovoltaic systems, energy efficient windows and doors, insulation, high efficiency furnaces and more.

Low-interest loans are then repaid by property owners on their annual property tax bill over a period of time.

“The whole appeal of it is that it’s ultimately self-financing,” Carbondale Mayor Michael Hassig, who also chairs the Garfield New Energy Communities Initiative (G-NECI) advisory board, said at a town board meeting last week when the proposal was presented.

“The beauty is it provides up-front money to do energy efficiency measures using loans that can be paid back based on savings in energy costs,” he said.

Carbondale trustees voted 7-0 to urge the Garfield County commissioners to move forward with forming the district and to consider putting the bond question to voters.

Elected officials in each of the five other municipalities in the county will hear similar presentations over the next few weeks, and county commissioners will likely take up the discussion sometime this spring.

Garfield County was asked to join with Pitkin, Eagle and Gunnison counties last year in establishing a local improvement district and putting a bonding question on the fall ballot. Due to a variety of concerns and the unknown as to how much interest there would be on the part of property owners, the county opted out.

The other three counties did proceed, however, and voters in each county approved financing in the November 2009 election using the Property Assessed Clean Energy Financing (PACE) program, as authorized by the Colorado State Legislature in 2008.

Eagle County may now issue up to $10 million in bonds to fund the loan program, while Pitkin County was allowed up to $7 million and Gunnison County $3 million.

Boulder County was the first Colorado county to establish the program, and two-thirds of the counties in California now have an option for property assessed clean energy financing, according to Alice Laird, director of CLEER, the nonprofit organization that manages G-NECI.

That provides a model for other counties, including Garfield County, to consider in making their decisions, she said.

Not only would the program allow access to funds to do energy improvements that property owners might not have the means to do otherwise, the program is also touted for its economic development benefits.

“It is a way to increase demand for building trade jobs and materials, and supports the construction industry through upgrading existing structures,” according to Laird’s presentation to the Carbondale board last week.

One concern Garfield County commissioners had relates to some of the administrative costs that would need to be absorbed by the county to run the program. Laird said a variety of funding sources exist that could cover that expense, including an existing $227,000 Department of Energy block grant and possible Colorado Housing Authority Funds.

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