Pitkin County launches Energy Smart program | AspenTimes.com
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Pitkin County launches Energy Smart program

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Pitkin County’s Energy Smart program makes its long-awaited debut Wednesday with the opening of the Energy Smart Resource Center at the Aspen Business Center.

It’s a place where homeowners can seek guidance on how to make their homes more energy efficient, from figuring out what improvements are most cost-effective to arranging for a low-cost loan to pay for them.

Pitkin County, along with Eagle and Gunnison counties, are partners in the pilot program, funded with a three-year, $4.9 million Department of Energy grant. County commissioners, briefed Tuesday on the program’s launch, voiced concern about the amount of the grant that will go to administration of the tri-county effort, as opposed to spending on actual projects.

The cost of a resource center in each county, staffing, marketing, tracking data on the effectiveness of energy projects and other administrative expenses will eat about $2.1 million of the funding over three years. Workshops, training and an Eagle County position that administers the grant will require another $550,000.

Of the $4.9 million total, about $955,000 will be leveraged to secure bank loans – a piece of the program that is not yet finalized, said Dylan Hoffman, energy program manager for the county. Roughly another $827,000 is budgeted for energy assessment rebates and incentives.

Commissioners Michael Owsley and Jack Hatfield objected to the administrative costs of the program. Commissioner Rachel Richards said it felt as though the program had moved forward with little input from the elected officials.

“I look forward to the implementation of this – I do worry about all the bureaucracy,” said Commissioner Jack Hatfield. “For me, it’s fraught with huge bureaucracies from the feds down to the local level.”

“I’m having some problems here,” Owsley said. “Personally, I think there’s too many administrative costs with this and it’s too complex.”

“I absolutely agree, Michael, that this looks administratively heavy,” Hoffman responded.

Setting up a federally funded program and complying with the associated requirements is challenging, he conceded.

For “John Q. Homeowner,” however, Hoffman envisions a program that provides a free home energy score and, if the homeowner chooses, a more detailed energy audit. The audit will be paid for by the homeowner, though the program will help the individual seek available rebates to offset the cost. Helping a homeowner find a contractor to do energy improvement work and arrange for a loan, if need be, are also part of the program. An auditor can do simple fixes as part of the visit – install a programmable thermostat, for example.

“We have a lot of people who live in old, inefficient homes in our community,” Hoffman said. “The environmental benefits might not be at the top of their list, but they’re paying those utility bills every month.”

The impact of work that is done will be tracked; the energy and cost savings will be tallied. The overall goal for the three counties is achieving energy savings of 20 percent or greater in at least 10 percent of existing homes, or 4,100 residences, he said.

The Energy Smart Resource Center is opening at 111 Aspen Business Center, suite M. A website for the program – at http://www.energysmartcolorado.com – is scheduled to launch in mid-February.

The original vision for the Energy Smart program involved a loan pool in each of the three counties, from which property owners could borrow to make energy improvements. The loans were to be repaid through a special assessment on a participant’s property tax bill.

Voters in each county authorized borrowing to fund the loan pool. But the plan hit a snag when the Federal National Mortgage Association and Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. announced they wouldn’t re-purchase mortgages that had such loans attached to property tax bills.

janet@aspentimes.com


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