EDWARDS, Colorado - While Eagle County's "smart loan" program for energy-efficient home improvements languishes in bureaucratic limbo, county officials are still working on ways to help residents cut their utility bills.
The latest effort is the "Energy Resource Center," a county office in Miller Ranch in Edwards. The office opened last week, promising to find ways to help homeowners, train energy auditors, and link contractors with potential clients.
The idea for the center started with county voters' approval in 2009 of a proposal that would have created a loan program with Pitkin and Gunnison counties. Those loans for energy-efficient improvements would have been originally financed by county-issued bonds to issue loans. Those loans would then be repaid through assessments on homeowners' property tax bills. The loans could have been transferred to new owners when a home sold.
That program has been stymied because Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the country's largest re-purchasers of mortgage loans, have stated they won't accept mortgages burdened with those loans. That's started a political fight that's even seen Vice President Joe Biden get involved.
With that program in limbo, local officials have been trying to find ways to get some program started, with the dual intent of helping residents save energy and putting at least some of the county's hard-hit construction industry back to work.
The Energy Resource Center is one result of that work.
Here's how it works:
• Homeowners - and homeowners' associations in condo and townhome complexes - can use the center learn about various energy-saving projects, tax incentives and the like. They can also sign up for a free "energy assessment" that will pinpoint where improvements are needed and suggest ways to make those improvements, along with estimated costs.
• The office will also help train and certify the people who will do those evaluations, although the training will be done at Colorado Mountain College.
• The office will also be able to link property owners and certified contractors.
County planner Adam Palmer said the college will train and certify people using Building Performance Institute standards, which is becoming an industry standard, especially for home remodeling projects.
The certified energy auditors will then be able to issue new Department of Energy certificates attesting to a home's energy use. The new sticker is somewhat similar to the fuel economy stickers the Environmental Protection Agency puts on new cars.
"It's a great opportunity," Active Energies co-owner Megan Gilman said. The energy audits, she said, can give homeowners a chance to see what changes they can make at little to no cost, and to plan ahead for bigger improvements down the road.
Improvements could be as easy and cheap as new weatherstripping for doors and windows, or as expensive as new heating units or solar panels.
And, since many contractors will do audits and bid on jobs, Palmer said an independent third party will examine contractors' home audits. Companies playing fast and loose with estimates could potentially lose their certification, Palmer said.
At the moment, homeowners are on their own to pay for improvements. But Palmer said the county is working with a local bank to create a home-improvement loan program to finance the work. While the "smart loans" would have been repaid through property tax bills, Palmer said these loans will be standard bank loans with monthly payments.
"We're trying to work outside of the (smart loan) umbrella to get these done," Palmer said.
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.