EAGLE — Eagle County commissioners have some big decisions to make for the Energy Smart program on the next supplemental budget request. A work session is scheduled for Sept. 10.
Energy Smart is a community program that helps homeowners save money by improving the energy efficiency of their homes. Funded through a $4.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, the program provides free advice to residents, low-cost home energy assessments, connections with qualified contractors and access to low-interest loans.
Making improvements more affordable
Since the grant was awarded in August 2010, Eagle, Pitkin and Gunnison counties have worked with local nonprofits, utilities and a network of contractors to build a program that makes energy improvements simple and affordable. By making the improvements more affordable, construction jobs have been stimulated as well, which was part of the program’s intention from the beginning.
Number of homes improved
So far, more than 2,600 single-family homes in the three counties have received energy assessments and 1,935 homes have made energy improvements. In Eagle County, 772 homes have made improvements through the program. Participating homes that receive both an assessment and energy improvements are recognized as energy smart homes in the Eagle County Assessor’s database.
Since 2010, Eagle County has provided leadership, budget management and administration support for the regional program. With the three-year grant cycle ending this year, the Energy Smart program has several indicators of success.
“The $4.9 million grant resulted in $5.3 million of construction in the tri-county area,” said Yuri Kostick, a home energy advisor for Energy Smart and a sustainable project manager for Eagle County.
“We literally counted every light bulb that went in,” Kostick said of the stringent bookkeeping mandated by the grant. “The good thing about that, is now we have the numbers to show for it.”
Becoming a statewide, independent nonprofit
The next challenge is to find ways that will allow Energy Smart to continue as an independent nonprofit in 2014 and expand to a statewide level.
Last March, Eagle County commissioners agreed to consider how the county might support Energy Smart through the end of the year so that it has a chance to stand on its own feet.
All that currently remains in the grant fund for the tri-county area is $173,000. That’s not much for a program that has been using approximately $100,000 a month when factoring in the rebates awarded for home energy upgrades and those sorts of things.
Last week, Energy Smart Administrator John Gitchell presented a staff recommendation to the board of commissioners to support the program in Eagle County through 2013.
‘The house is built’
“Essentially, the house is built,” Gitchell said of how the program is set up to become self-sustaining, “but there is a cost to operate the program. We’re working toward agreements to keep it funded and growing.”
He said during the transition period, spending will be scaled back to about $5,000 a month per county through the end of the year.
Kostick said a “loose coalition” of similar programs is already in place around the state and Eagle County’s program appears to be leading the way toward bigger, more widespread results.
“There’s a scale there that could get these projects moving at a statewide level and that’s where we’re moving,” Kostick said. “This is just a step in 2013 to continue that work.”
Kostick said the details of making Energy Smart an independent nonprofit are not tied down yet.
“But the idea is that it’s an entity that gets support mostly from local utilities, which have either a voluntary goal or a state mandate to meet energy-reduction targets,” he said. “Energy Smart is a program that helps utilities meet their energy reduction goals, one house at a time.”
“So it’s going to be a statewide program, but we’re starting it?” said Commissioner Sara Fisher.
“Correct,” Kostick said.
More details to come
Gitchell, Kostick, the rest of the Energy Smart leaders and industry partners will lay out more details of the grand plans for commissioners Sept. 10.