Skico will lead charge for Pitkin County ‘green’ fund | AspenTimes.com

Skico will lead charge for Pitkin County ‘green’ fund

PITKIN COUNTY – The Aspen Skiing Co. will play a role in lobbying Pitkin County voters to approve a clean energy financing district this fall, Skico Environmental Affairs Director Auden Schendler said Wednesday.

The Pitkin County commissioners placed the “green” financing district on the fall ballot, but state law prohibits county employees from campaigning on the measure. Schendler said the goal is for the Skico to play a role in the campaign, with other entities and individuals. But the company is prepared to take a lead role if necessary.

“The reality is this is such a beneficial thing to the community,” Schendler said.

The Skico has focused its environmental program in recent years on building awareness about global warming and battling it. This election won’t be the company’s first foray into “green” politics. The Skico has endorsed candidates in the Holy Cross Energy board of directors elections in the last two years.

Schendler said the campaign for the clean energy financing district started this week out of necessity because mail ballots will be sent to voters in mid-October. “Part of any campaign is making sure that voters don’t throw the ballot out [as junk mail],” Schendler said.

The Skico will supply some of the volunteers needed to go door-to-door to distribute literature, and it will help by mailing letters and e-mails.

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Pitkin County is seeking voter approval to issue as much as $7 million worth of bonds. The bonds will be repaid by property owners who voluntarily participate in the program, not taxpayers at large.

Commercial and residential property owners can apply for funds to finance renewable energy projects and energy efficiency measures. The property owners who borrow the funds will repay the amount plus interest over 15 to 20 years through a special assessment to their property tax bills.

The loan for the energy efficiency upgrades and renewable energy projects are attached to the property rather than a person, so if the property sells, the obligation to repay the loan remains with the property.

The intent of the program is to make energy efficiency and renewable energy projects more affordable for the masses.

“It’s a great way for people who don’t have a lot of capital lying around to finance these projects,” said Dylan Hoffman, Pitkin County’s energy program manager.

For example, a homeowner might want to replace a natural gas boiler that provides heat and domestic hot water, but doesn’t have $5,000 for the upgrade. The homeowner could use the clean energy fund, if the district is approved, and repay the cost over 15 years through a higher annual property tax.

Schendler, who has overseen a major push at the Skico to increase the energy efficiency of buildings, said the most popular use of funds by homeowners will likely be to install solar photovoltaic systems to offset their electricity use. He said he would personally advise people to consider adding insulation because it is “the best bang for the buck.”

Regardless of the projects selected by property owners, the higher cost in annual property tax bills will often be offset by lower annual electricity bills, Hoffman said.

Schendler views the program as a way to boost the struggling economy as well as improving energy efficiency. A sudden surge of energy efficiency projects could help employ carpenters and others in the construction trade who are having trouble staying busy, he said.

A bill passed by the Colorado Legislature in 2008 allowed counties to establish the clean energy financing districts. Boulder County has already established such a program. Eagle and Gunnison counties will also seek voter approval to establish the districts this fall.

In Pitkin County, the ballot issue for the “energy smart local improvement district” is Referendum 1A.

scondon@aspentimes.com