Deeded Interest: Ramping up the valley’s REMP
January 19, 2019
There's a battle afoot; an age-old Aspen story, a throwback to our area's rich mining heritage, essentially a tug-of-war between money and Mother Earth.
At issue, a controversial proposal that has developers, construction companies, realtors and architects at odds with local government, nonprofits and individuals with the aim of protecting the environment. The Pitkin Board of County Commissioners is set to meet again at the end of the month to continue discussions on the possibility of significant changes to the building code. In my column last month (which can be found on aspentimes.com), I laid out the contentious proposal in detail, and mostly from the perspective of those against the plan and would feel the most impact of new fees known as REMP (Renewable Energy Mitigation Program).
As you might imagine, that focus didn't sit too well with those on the other side of the aisle, who understandably asked for equal time.
By way of a quick recap, a valley-wide nonprofit by the name of CORE (the Community Office for Resource Efficiency) manages the money the county collects through REMP fees. REMP is triggered when developers build big hot tubs, heated pools, install snow-melt and heat-tape systems and build big homes. CORE then takes those fees and distributes them to the greater community via rebates to local consumers for purchase and use of energy-efficient appliances, insulation and solar systems.
They also provide grants for larger projects, most recently the remodel and expansion of the Pitkin County Library. The organization also offers technical advice to anyone who asks — individuals, businesses, nonprofits and local government — and provides energy efficiency assessments for a small fee.
The rub is, those who stand to profit from big projects, for which REMP fees can easily reach six figures, say the assessments are already high enough and, if increased, stand to stifle future development and the local economy.
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Mona Newton, CORE's Executive Director, sees it differently.
"It's important to remember there are three options when it comes to the code," she said recently. "Stay within the guidelines, mitigate on site or pay into REMP."
An example of on-site mitigation would be the installation of a solar system to heat the hot tub.
Newton said, rhetorically: "Does our economy thrive on hot tubs, snowmelt, pools and homes over 10,000 square feet?" To her, the answer is obvious.
Standing firm to her mission, Newton also points out there are builders and projects that exceed the code, creating a new category of home with its own unique market value. She argues that the hundreds of rebates handed out every year by CORE "circle back" to smaller contractors, who not only sell energy efficient appliances and solar systems but also install and service them. In the meantime, homeowners and businesses are incentivized by lower prices, which remain available when the economy is strong as well as in leaner years when new construction falls off in favor of home improvement (as it did during the Great Recession).
According to CORE, buildings are the largest source of carbon emissions in Pitkin County, counting for as much as 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.
"This means that the energy-saving steps we take at work and at home (i.e. buildings) are the most effective tool for meeting our climate goals," said Lara Whitley, CORE Brand & Creative Strategy Director.
In the 19 years since managing REMP, CORE estimates it has stopped more than 22,000 metric tons of carbon from entering the atmosphere and more than 3,300 last year.
When it comes to the standoff regarding the proposed changes, Newton said it's not CORE's intention to put people at odds. She hopes, in the end, more people and businesses will come to understand that homes and buildings built to these standards will have more value, lower maintenance and incorporate new technology.
"Look outside. Here in the mountains we celebrate the snow, clean air, a stable climate and that helps keep our economy going," Newton said.
Clearly not everyone agrees, in fact, there are those who don't even accept the concept of man-made climate change. But obviously it's an issue whose time has come and is set to shake out over the coming weeks and months.
"We're all going into the soup and hopefully come out a better community," said Cindy Houben, Pitkin County Community Development Director.
One thing's certain, the debate between development and environmental protection is set to continue even after the ink is dry on whatever new guidelines are eventually adopted. Stay tuned.
Scott Bayens (GRI, ABR, CNE) is a realtor with Aspen Snowmass Sotheby's International Realty with more than a decade of experience with buyers, sellers and investors. He can be reached at email@example.com.