Roaring Fork Transportation Authority to get break on energy fee
The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority won’t have to pay close to $400,000 in fees to mitigate the energy use resulting from snowmelt systems it has installed at its new bus stations in Pitkin County.
County commissioners on Tuesday wrestled with how to treat RFTA. Its Bus Rapid Transit project is considered a commercial enterprise under the county’s building code, and the snowmelt systems exceed the energy budget established in the code. That means, under typical circumstances, RFTA would pay into the Renewable Energy Mitigation Program; the proceeds would go to energy-efficiency efforts elsewhere.
The bus agency’s energy-mitigation fee is now up to about $390,000, based on the square footage of snowmelt surfaces installed around the Highway 82 bus stations that have been built or are under construction at Basalt, the Brush Creek intercept lot, the Aspen Business Center and Buttermilk.
All the stations between Aspen and Glenwood Springs are being outfitted with snowmelt, but only the ones in Pitkin County are subject to the energy fee.
The snowmelt is key to making the station platforms safe, said Mike Hermes, RFTA facilities director and on a sensor system project manager. RFTA sees an average of 10 accidents at bus stops each year that involve serious enough injuries to result in insurance claims, he said in a letter to commissioners.
RFTA explored on-site mitigation for the snowmelt systems, such as solar panels or ground-source heat pumps, but found them unfeasible, so it chose electric snowmelt systems on a sensor system that operate when necessary.
“We looked at everything we could think of to power these,” Hermes said.
With Rachel Richards absent, commissioners agreed that some accommodation should be made for RFTA but differed on what policy change should be made. And they pondered the precedent that would be set — for everything from future snowmelt at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport to the sidewalk outside a grocery store. All involve public safety to some degree.
“I was worried about it getting out the door and everybody saying, ‘Oh, I’ve got a risk here,’” said Brian Pawl, the county’s chief building official. “That’s what we’re trying to avoid.”
Energy-mitigation-fee revenues from the city of Aspen and Pitkin County are turned over to the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, which distributes them through annual grants and ongoing rebate programs.
Mona Newton, CORE executive director, urged commissioners to resist creating a lot of exemptions to the program but conceded that RFTA might be deserving.
“I think it’s an interesting exception to consider,” she said.
Commissioner Steve Child said he opposed making outright exceptions to the mitigation program, even for public entities, but suggested that off-site mitigation efforts should be considered acceptable for public projects when public safety is an issue. The code requires on-site mitigation to avoid paying the fee.
“We should all toe the line. I think government agencies should be the first to abide by the standards we set,” Child said.
He also advocated a publicly financed solar farm in Pitkin County where investment in off-site mitigation would be possible.
RFTA is exploring investment in a Rifle solar farm to offset its electricity use. In addition, some commissioners pointed out, the bus agency’s mass-transit service could be considered mitigation because it reduces carbon emissions when it eliminates private-vehicle trips. In addition, RFTA has invested in buses fueled by compressed natural gas for its pending Bus Rapid Transit service.
“The entire service is a mitigation. To ask for further mitigation, it seems to me, is onerous,” said Commissioner Michael Owsley, who serves on the RFTA board of directors.
Commissioners directed Pawl to draft an amendment to the building code to address energy use for life/safety issues in public projects. Off-site mitigation efforts should be assessed as part of the determination to exempt a project, they agreed.
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