Aspen’s energy mitigation fees being collected in large amounts | AspenTimes.com

Aspen’s energy mitigation fees being collected in large amounts

The fund that collects fees levied on property owners who consume large amounts of energy is accumulating faster than officials can spend it.

That was a takeaway for Aspen City Council members Tuesday when they met with representatives from the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, or CORE.

CORE manages the funds collected through the Renewable Energy Mitigation Program, or REMP. It was established in 1999 as part of the Aspen-Pitkin County Energy Conservation Code.

In recent years, the city's portion of the fund produces more than $1 million annually. The fund balance is currently over $7 million.

During council's Tuesday work session, Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron asked CORE executive director Mona Newton if she has the capacity to spend that much money on projects and grants.

"It would be hard to spend that much money," she replied.

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Newton pointed out that the nearly $2.6 million in grants CORE is asking council and county commissioners to approve later this month is only one-third of the REMP budget.

That's in an effort to be conservative — in case of an economic slowdown, CORE would be able to continue without suspending programs.

Skadron said he supports that approach but cautioned that the REMP doesn't become like the Wheeler real estate transfer tax windfall that city officials are currently grappling with.

The voter-approved fund, dedicated to arts and culture and maintenance of the Wheeler Opera House, stands at $32 million.

Various groups are wanting city officials to ask voters to repurpose some of that money.

Newton said CORE is dedicated to making judicious financial decisions to ensure that projects and grants make a difference in the community.

CORE is a nonprofit represented by officials in the city, county, Snowmass Village, Basalt, Holy Cross Energy and Black Hills Energy.

Councilman Adam Frisch sits on the CORE board of directors. He said they've been looking at finding a seven-figure project that would meet CORE's goals of carbon-emissions reduction, energy efficiency and renewable-energy generation in the Roaring Fork Valley.

He pointed to the city's Climate Action Plan that the REMP can fund, as well as Pitkin County's plan.

"We are going to use some of this money from the REMP fund and put as much as we can to work," he said, adding some money should go to downvalley communities with similar climate-action plans.

Skadron said he wants the money to be spent on worthwhile causes.

"The money needs to be used to affect an outcome, not sit in the bank," he said.

Newtown said she agrees.

She pointed to a solar project that's planned to come online sometime in 2019 that would put 5 megawatts of solar power somewhere in Pitkin County.

That would power about 1,250 homes, or 10 percent of residences in the county.

Newton said it also would drive Holy Cross to a cleaner grid.

She told council that CORE is looking at financing projects like the Aspen Middle School's planned solar array project.

CORE's recent $100,000 grant toward 27 homes dedicated to teacher housing in Basalt made it possible for them to be net zero.

"Any new affordable housing, in my mind, should be built at net zero, or darn near close to it," she said. "I think with our staff we are doing as much as we can every single day and we are always happy to do more and come up with new projects."

Ashley Perl, the city's climate-action manager, said as part of Aspen's Climate Action Plan, CORE funds were used for energy upgrades at three affordable-housing complexes — seasonal housing Marolt and Burlingame, as well as at Truscott.

The second phase of that will consider improvements to be made in other deed-restricted units in the housing program, as well as assisting commercial buildings in becoming more efficient.

Among a variety of other CORE initiatives, REMP revenue is used to fund an annual grant cycle, known as The Randy Udall Energy Pioneer Grant, in honor of the organization's founding director.

The grants support government, nonprofit, and commercial and residential projects located in the valley.

CORE received eight applications seeking $1.1 million in support this year. Five are recommended, totaling $505,458. Those initiatives are estimated to eliminate or avoid 26,478 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions over the life of the projects.

Next week, council and county commissioners will consider approving those grant requests and other proposed REMP programs totaling close to $2.6 million.

csackariason@aspentimes.com

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