Pitkin County energy loans remain a work in progress
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – An energy audit may be the first requirement for property owners hoping to take advantage of Pitkin County’s Energy Smart Loan Program, once it’s up and running.
Voters authorized the program last November, but it will likely be May or June before it’s ready to process its first applications, according to Dylan Hoffman, energy program manager for the county.
Pitkin, Eagle and Gunnison county staffers have all been collaborating on setting up a program that will have many common elements, after voters in all three counties approved Energy Smart programs last fall. Each county will draw from its own pool of funding to provide loans, but the applications, eligible energy measures and other components will be identical as a result of the regional collaboration, Hoffman said.
Ironing out the nuts and bolts of the program has taken longer than officials initially thought it would, he conceded. The public, meanwhile, is eagerly awaiting its launch.
“We’re definitely getting calls and inquiries consistently,” Hoffman said. “We realize there is a demand for this, but we want to do it right.”
Pitkin County commissioners will give the proposed workings of the program an initial review at a March 16 work session, when Hoffman will outline the sorts of projects that are eligible for loans, the application process and other proposed rules that will govern the program’s operation.
County commissioners must also decide how exactly the loan fund will be financed. Voters authorized borrowing up to $7 million, but that could be done through the issuance of bonds or obtaining a line of credit from a local bank, among other options.
Gunnison County voters authorized borrowing $3 million; Eagle County voters OK’d $10 million.
The pool of money will provide low-interest loans to residential and commercial property owners who wish to invest in renewable energy or energy-efficiency projects – everything from solar installations to better insulation in the attic. The loans will be repaid through a special assessment on the property tax bill for those who choose to participate. The debt stays with the property, if it changes hands.
The county will pay for approved projects up front; the property owner will repay the loan over time, ideally saving enough money on energy costs as a result of the project to offset the annual payment for the improvements.
A fixed repayment schedule of 15 years is envisioned, along with a minimum loan amount of $3,000 and a maximum of $50,000, Hoffman said.
The three-county group is also leaning toward requiring an energy audit before a property owner is eligible to apply for a loan – a step that will help ensure the money is spent as effectively as possible, Hoffman said.
For a homeowner interested in installing a solar project, for example, the audit would determine the home’s energy needs so that the solar project isn’t larger than necessary to provide for that electricity use, he explained. Or, the audit might point to the need for sealing leaks or better insulating the structure to reduce energy consumption as a first step. Then, a solar array could be sized to offset the newly lowered energy use.
Aspen residents are eligible for a city rebate of $125 for an energy audit, which costs about $350. The city will cover the remaining $225 of the cost for those who then make $225 worth of improvements.
Energy Smart administrators are looking at options for subsidizing the cost of an audit to those who don’t qualify for the city program, or rolling the cost of the audit into the loan, Hoffman said.
“We want to make that requirement easier,” he said.
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