Paul Andersen: The Robin Hood of kilowatts … | AspenTimes.com

Paul Andersen: The Robin Hood of kilowatts …

Paul Andersen

I received a check the other day for $1,000. That money will provide my home in the Frying Pan Valley with a pair of solar panels to heat my domestic hot water and radiant floor heating system. Free money for free energy; a sweet deal.

The check was courtesy of CORE ? the Community Office for Resource Efficiency. Based in Aspen, CORE hands out $1,000 grants to homeowners like me who employ renewable, alternative energy resources.

The check won’t cover the complete cost of my solar installation, but it sure makes it affordable. “With these panels you can sell hot water to your neighbors,” jokes my plumber, who has installed numerous hot water systems in the Roaring Fork Valley.

CORE isn’t about to go broke through such generosity. The funds it provides for domestic solar systems like mine are regenerated regularly by energy inefficiency on the high end.

Because of legislation advocated by CORE, the Aspen/Pitkin County Building Department worked with the Aspen City Council to draft breakthrough energy-efficiency legislation in November 2000. The result is a kind of Robin Hood scheme that takes kilowatts from the rich and gives them to the not so rich.

Aspen’s Renewable Energy Mitigation Program (REMP) gives two choices to owners of new homes over 5,000 square feet: Either the home must include a renewable energy system, like solar heating or photovoltaic electric generation, or the owner must pay a special mitigation fee that increases with each energy-gulping amenity.

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Within its first year or so, the REMP program brought in $750,000, including a check for $80,000 that one extravagant Aspen homeowner paid for a year-round, outdoor, heated pool.

“That pool is going to use as much energy as three or four houses,” estimated Randy Udall, the director of CORE. “We’re going to take that money and use it to pay for renewable energy projects elsewhere in the valley. It is no longer acceptable that a 5,000-square-foot home, costing more than $2 million to construct, just sits on the site and guzzles energy,” explained Udall. “We need to build much more efficient houses.”

Udall walks the talk. His own adobe brick house outside of Carbondale is flanked by solar-collecting panels that heat water and generate electricity. The annual energy bill on his 2,000-square-foot, solar-oriented home is a mere $300.

Resource-efficient building means awareness and conservation throughout the entire spectrum of natural resources required over the life of a building ? reducing energy for heating, cooling and lighting, using nontoxic materials and interior finishes, conserving wood products, and reducing waste to the landfill.

REMP and CORE take energy efficiency beyond a sense of social good by prompting overarching and pragmatic green building practices. A sober world view and long-range economic sensibility are part of the equation, as Udall explains.

“If Americans want energy to remain cheap, we need to embrace energy efficiency with a vengeance. For as much money as it costs to build a new house, there is no reason for it not to be efficient. It is astounding that more new houses don’t employ the cheap, simple strategy of using the sun’s heat.”

For one who usually begrudges yet another home construction project, I am happy to spend a weekend mounting solar panels to my roof. Cheap, plentiful hot water and free home heating are well worth the investment.