Garfield County switches gears on energy program | AspenTimes.com

Garfield County switches gears on energy program

John Colson
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Plans were shelved this week for a “local improvement district” to help property owners get loans for energy-efficiency improvements to homes and businesses.

Advocates for the district withdrew their proposal at a June 21 meeting with the Garfield County commissioners, that was scheduled as a public hearing to discuss the district’s formation.

The next step, those proponents said, is to wait to see how a statewide district shapes up and whether Garfield County will sign on.

“Joining forces with a statewide approach is the preferred path over creating a local district,” stated a memo from the Garfield New Energy Communities Initiative (G-NECI), which proposed the local district.

“We’re pretty optimistic about it moving forward pretty quickly,” said Alice Laird of G-NECI, concerning implementation of the statewide district.

Gov. Bill Ritter earlier this month signed legislation creating a “New Energy Improvement District.” The program is expected to be driven by up to $800 million in bond proceeds.

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According to the G-NECI memo to the commissioners, the law authorizes loans of up to $25,000 for qualified properties and projects.

The legislation, sponsored by State Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, and Rep. Joe Mikosi, D-Denver, is meant to “promote and finance property-assessed clean energy programs,” according to the state’s website.

It is being touted as the “New Energy Jobs Creation Act of 2010,” under the expectation that the state’s construction industry and other sectors may benefit from homeowners taking advantage of the provisions of the act.

Counties must “opt-in” to the statewide district to enable residents to be eligible for the loans. Eligible property owners are to repay the loans based on special assessments on their property tax bills lasting up to 20 years.

The county’s version of the program, had it been adopted, would have provided loans to both homes and businesses.

Currently, the state district covers only homes, although this and other aspects of the program reportedly may be modified at some point.

Prior to withdrawal of the district proposal in Garfield County, city and town councils from each of the county’s six municipalities signed letters of support for the county to form the district, and to put a bonding question on the November ballot to fund the program.

Last November, voters in three neighboring counties – Eagle, Pitkin and Gunnison – authorized bonds to fund loan programs. Eagle County authorized up to $10 million in bonds, Pitkin County $7 million and Gunnison County $3 million.

“The way the state expresses it, is that they’re meeting the counties half-way,” said Laird, maintaining that state backing means counties need not worry about numerous administrative and funding questions.

But, she added, “There still would be a lot of local participation.”

Explaining that the counties would not necessarily be involved in such areas as marketing, loan processing and other tasks, she said, “The level of county participation would need to be determined.”

Laird was uncertain how the establishment of a statewide district would affect the districts already in the works in neighboring counties.

jcolson@postindependent.com

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