Pitkin County pushing toward launch of energy loan program | AspenTimes.com
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Pitkin County pushing toward launch of energy loan program

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Pitkin County is aiming to roll out its Energy Smart Loan Program in June, though its administrators are still nailing down the details of how it will work.

Alpine Bank has offered to provide a $1 million loan to get the program up and running; the terms will allow the county to offer loans to property owners at 6 percent interest or less, according to Tom Oken, county treasurer. The county will provide start-up loan money this year, then wrap the loans into a single sum to borrow from the bank in November; the property owners who take out loans will begin repaying them with their property tax bills in early 2011, he said. The loan repayment period will be 15 years.

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. The pool of money in each county will provide low-interest loans to residential and commercial property owners who wish to invest in renewable energy or energy efficiency projects. Pitkin County will start solely with residential properties before rolling out a program for commercial properties, said Dylan Hoffman, Pitkin County energy program manager.

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.

Hoffman said he’s anxious to get the program running, in part because the projects will provide a local economic boost.

“We do realize there is a demand here. People will start doing projects when we launch this program, on day one,” he said.

Pitkin County commissioners agreed Tuesday to Hoffman’s proposal to issue loans of no less than $3,000 and no more than $50,000 per residential property, or up to 10 percent of a property’s appraised value (whichever is less).

They were split, though, on whether an energy audit should be required of loan applicants. With three commissioners present, both Rachel Richards and Michael Owsley supported the audit requirement.

Commissioner George Newman wasn’t convinced the audit is necessary, since it’s merely advisory. They typically cost about $350 and that cost can’t be rolled into the loan.

The audit is expected to identify the most effective ways to improve a home’s energy efficiency, Hoffman said. It could point to a need for better insulation rather than a costly solar installation, for example.

“That doesn’t guarantee that people will make the smartest decision, but they’d be better informed as they went into projects,” he said. “Realistically, you can look at the audit as a very good idea – a good thing to do.”

The program will also require a homeowner to authorize the release of past and future energy data from their home in order to track the effect of the improvements financed by the loans, Hoffman said. It’s the only way to document energy savings, he explained.

A $100 up-front application fee and 1.5 percent administration fee built into the loan are also proposed to pay the administrative costs of the program, Hoffman said.

Administrators have come up with a draft list of eligible projects and intend to establish a website where homeowners will be able to find a loan application and other necessary information.

Pitkin County voters actually authorized borrowing up to $7 million to finance the loans, but the county will start with a loan pool of $1 million and see how it goes, Hoffman said. Individual loans are expected to average about $20,000.

“I’d be floored if we got to the $1 million in the first year,” he said.

janet@aspentimes.com


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