Pitkin County moves to Plan B in Energy Smart program | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County moves to Plan B in Energy Smart program

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Pitkin County is ready to move to Plan B to get an Energy Smart loan program off the ground.

The county, along with Eagle and Gunnison counties, which are partners in the program, will use a $4.9 million Department of Energy grant awarded to the consortium last summer to launch a retooled initiative on Jan. 1. The revised program will achieve the goals of the Energy Smart program as it was originally envisioned, but through an altered financing scheme, said Dylan Hoffman, energy program manager for the county.

Pitkin County voters, along with voters in Eagle and Gunnison counties, approved the Energy Smart program a year ago, authorizing each jurisdiction to borrow money that could then be loaned to property owners to make energy efficiency improvements. The loans were to be repaid through a special assessment on a participant’s property tax bill.

The plan hit a snag when the Federal National Mortgage Association, or Fannie Mae, and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., or Freddie Mac, announced they wouldn’t repurchase mortgages that had such loans attached to the property tax bills. The stance stalled similar programs across the country; political pressure has thus far failed to redress the issue.

The DEO grant, for a three-year pilot program, is not enough to create a loan pool, according to Hoffman. Rather, the counties hope to leverage the funds to secure bank loans that offer better terms than an individual property owner could secure. The intention is to work with one bank that has branches in all three counties, he said.

In addition, each county will establish an “energy resource” office. In Pitkin County, the nonprofit Community Office for Resource Efficiency will serve that role. CORE will add staff members who will act as home-energy advisers for property owners interested in obtaining an Energy Smart loan, Hoffman said.

The adviser will assist a property owner in obtaining a home-energy audit and in wading through the loan process. The adviser can also guide a homeowner to the slew of available rebate and incentive programs that already exist for energy improvements.

From the DEO grant, the three counties will put more than $825,000 toward energy assessments that help homeowners determine what projects should be tackled first to make a residence more efficient. The goal is to make the assessments available at low cost, or possibly no cost.

Some of the money will also go toward rebates and “quick fixes,” Hoffman said. If, for example, an energy auditor going through a home finds the residence doesn’t have a programmable thermostat, they’ll install one on the spot, he said.

“What we’re trying to do is make it easy and efficient to get these improvements done. That’s what we wanted to do with the loan program a year ago,” Hoffman said. “The last thing we want is for people to get a cheap or free audit and then do nothing.”

The three-county consortium is among 22 recipients of the DEO grants, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Among the goals is putting people to work doing the energy audits and projects.

As for the original Energy Smart plan – it remains authorized by voters and is still doable, if it ever becomes feasible, Hoffman said.

“We’re not hanging our hat on that program, but we haven’t completely written it off,” he said.