Rocky Mountain Institute unveils plan for ‘Innovation Center’

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Rocky Mountain Institute courtesy image
Rocky Mountain Institute

The Rocky Mountain Institute aims to construct a new headquarters in Basalt that befits its role as a world leader in energy and resource efficiency, the organization has announced.

The renowned nonprofit, based in Old Snowmass and Boulder, submitted a land-use plan to the town of Basalt this week for its “Basalt Innovation Center.” The town’s Planning and Zoning Commission will start the review in coming months.

RMI’s application said its goal is to build a facility that will draw visitors to Basalt to learn more about its design and high-efficiency performance. It will hold workshops and educate the public about its work and innovative building techniques at Basalt, according to the application.

RMI representative Michael Kinsley said it is important that the headquarters be a model for what developers of small office buildings can achieve. That’s important, he said, because a lot more small buildings are constructed than large office buildings. The organization wants developers and builders to visit and get inspired to invest in super-efficient structures that don’t rely on fossil fuels.

“Someone from L.A. can come in and say, ‘I can do that.’”
Michael Kinsley, RMI

“Someone from L.A. can come in and say, ‘I can do that,’” Kinsley said. “It’s going to be a zero-energy building and replicable.”

Other model buildings have lots of bells and whistles but aren’t achievable for developers with more modest means, he said. RMI has a budget of $15 million for the building, the land purchase and “soft” costs of development — expenses that are necessary but aren’t tied directly to the building. The building alone will be significantly less expensive, Kinsley said.

“The story of the building is as important as the building itself,” Kinsley said, re-emphasizing the need for the building to be replicable.

Much of RMI’s drawing power is due to chief scientist Amory Lovins, widely regarded as an international leader in the energy-efficiency field. Kinsley has said in prior public meetings that RMI believes it can draw top thinkers to its Basalt facility, much like the Aspen Institute draws top innovators and thinkers to Aspen.

Basalt will benefit because those visitors to RMI will want to sleep, shop and eat in the town, he said.

RMI’s local office is at the Windstar property formerly owned by John Denver in Old Snowmass. The organization said it would reduce its carbon footprint by reducing transportation requirements by moving out of rural Pitkin County to Basalt. Employees will be able to live closer to work or take buses easier.

“RMI has outgrown its current offices at Windstar and, having recently sold that property, is pleased to be seeking to develop its new facility on a site located near the town of Basalt’s historic downtown core,” the plan said.

RMI has an option to purchase property owned by the town government. The site is where the popular restaurant Taqueria el Nopal is located. The Basalt-based, nonprofit Roaring Fork Conservancy plans to build a river center west of, or downvalley from, RMI’s Innovation Center.

Basalt Town Manager Mike Scanlon said his preliminary impression of the plan is that RMI’s building will be like “LEED on steroids.”

LEED is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a voluntary, consensus-based program that uses third-party verification of green building. RMI’s plan said it intends to seek LEED Platinum certification, which is the highest rating. It also will seek the independent Living Building Challenge certification, an international program that promotes sustainable building.

The building will be net-zero or net-positive in energy consumption. The energy needs will be “entirely offset by photovoltaics,” the plan said. The building envelope will be super-insulated with R50 walls, R60 roof and R12 windows.

Other features will “reduce burden on the electricity system through innovative human comfort such as localized temperature control,” the plan said.

RMI is seeking approval for a two-story, 15,610-square-foot building in the first phase, with rights for a 4,400-square-foot expansion.

“The initial phase of the project would provide office and support facilities for up to 50 staff,” the proposal said. “RMI currently has about 26 people working in its facilities in the Roaring Fork Valley.”

The building would include a conference center that could accommodate as many as 80 people.

An RMI spokeswoman said plans are being prepared for open houses in coming weeks to show the public the plan and collect opinions separate from the formal town review.