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Pitkin County considers energy work in employee units

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – A proposed pilot program to upgrade the energy efficiency of older units in the Aspen/Pitkin County worker-housing program met with resistance from county commissioners Tuesday.

Commissioners weren’t opposed to the envisioned energy upgrades, but some weren’t enthused about tacking the cost of the improvements onto the price of the units themselves.

There is already a growing disparity between what workers can afford and what is available through the housing program, Commissioner Rachel Richards said. The program proposed by the city of Aspen would add the price of the upgrades onto the purchase price of a unit when it changes hands, but the buyer of the residence would recoup the added cost through lower utility bills, according to Lauren McDonell, the city’s environmental initiative program manager.

“If your mortgage goes up by a certain amount, you should see a comparable or even greater reduction in energy costs,” she said.

Also envisioned is a financial incentive to either the buyer or the seller to live with a week or two of work in their home while the improvements are made.

The upgrades would be based on the highest efficiency gains that could be realized, determined by an energy assessment, but could include sealing and insulating units, installing programmable thermostats and low-flow fixtures, and insulating or replacing water heaters, for example. The cost of the improvements would be fronted by a revolving fund managed by the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority but added to the sale price of the unit and quickly recouped by the authority, McDonell said.

Both the Board of County Commissioners and the City Council must approve the program, as the housing authority is run jointly by city and county government.

“My primary concern is the price of the units going up,” Richards said. “I just kind of feel it should be a different program for repayment (other) than being in someone’s mortgage.”

“I’m not sure we’re not putting an undue burden on the next buyer and future buyers, as well,” Commissioner George Newman agreed.

Commissioner Jack Hatfield suggested that both the seller and buyer share in the cost of the improvements, while Commissioner Michael Owsley urged the city to consider using proceeds from the city/county Renewable Energy Mitigation Program to pay for the upgrades. That program collects fees from development that exceeds an established energy budget – heated swimming pools and driveways, for example – and puts the proceeds toward a variety of energy-saving projects.

“Then you’d have people lining up to apply for it,” Owsley said.

Formal consideration of the pilot program will come later at a joint meeting of commissioners and the City Council, but City Manager Steve Barwick urged the county to give the idea a chance.

“Energy conservation is the best investment we can make in this country,” he said. “We’re never going to get anywhere if we don’t take some chances and get some pilot program in place and get to work.

“I would ask your indulgence. … Can you just take some chances and let us try this?” he said.

janet@aspentimes.com


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