Derek Franz

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March 27, 2013
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Energy Smart hopes for life after grant

The Energy Smart program is nearing the end of it's three-year grant cycle but it's been such a success that administrators want to find a way to keep it going independently.

Energy Smart started as a partnership between Eagle, Pitkin and Gunnison counties in August 2010 with a $4.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. The intention was to encourage energy conservation and create jobs. It took a while for the program to get rolling but it has proven itself, Commissioner Jon Stavney said last week during an update with Energy Smart administrators.

Energy Smart Program Manager Adam Palmer and the rest of the team want to find a way to keep a good thing going, as opposed to letting the program fade away at the end of the grant.

The board of commissioners is supportive of that goal. Stavney told the Energy Smart team, which includes several Eagle County staff members, to come up with a plan for getting the program to become self-sustaining. He said surplus funds from the Eco-Build program could potentially be used to help Energy Smart operate to the end of the year and buy more time to find a solution.

Energy Smart offers energy assessments to homes and businesses, offers incentives to make them more efficient and also helps people find ways to finance upgrades. The other end of the program promotes jobs by certifying local contractors to do the assessments and upgrades.

In the report presented last week, $3.7 million has been spent on retrofits since Energy Smart launched in January 2011 and the total annual energy savings amount to $460,000. There are currently 153 contractor partners and 18,600 hours worked in homes. The annual carbon savings is 4.8 million pounds.

"There is also a home-safety component," said Yuri Kostick, who is an Energy Smart Home Energy Advisor and a sustainable project manager for Eagle County. "I was surprised how many carbon-monoxide leaks we found."

Since the program started, 208 gas leaks or high levels of carbon monoxide have been found by home energy assessments.

"I never imagined we would find that many," Kostick said.

Eco-Build could be a viable short-term help to get Energy Smart through its transitional period because Eco-Build has a record-high fund balance of $310,000.

The Eco-Build Fund was created in 2006 as part of the cash-in-lieu option for builders to meet the Eco-Build Efficient Building Code. The fund is collected from what are essentially penalty fees, primarily from snowmelt systems in patios and driveways. The idea of the program is to help offset environmental impacts caused by new construction through offsite mitigation.

The fund has grown steadily in the last two years - enough that it is switching to a fiscal budget. Last week, the commissioners approved granting approximately $50,000 of that budget to Habitat for Humanity's project in Stratton Flats in Gypsum. Other than that, the money remaining in the Eco-Build Fund is not yet committed to anything, especially because the fund's solar rebate program is on hold while that program's administration is being transferred to the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability.

That's why commissioners entertained the idea of using Eco-Build to help Energy Smart get on its feet.

"The headline should be, 'Trying to keep the lights on at Energy Smart,'" Stavney joked.

The Energy Smart team appreciated the support but agreed they might not need the extra time or the Eco-Build Fund to get Energy Smart on its own legs.

The Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability works collaboratively with partners that include Eagle County and Holy Cross Energy to promote sustainable practices. Kim Langmaid recently started as the new president and CEO of the Alliance and she introduced herself at last week's meeting, as the Alliance works with Energy Smart and Eco-Build.

"I want us to all put our heads together and find a way to keep (Energy Smart) alive," said Commissioner Sara Fisher.

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The VailDaily Updated Mar 27, 2013 01:27PM Published Mar 27, 2013 01:26PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.