County supports Energy Smart with $125K deal

Derek Franz

The Energy Smart program will continue at least through 2013 but its future remains uncertain beyond that.

However, there is reasonable hope the program will become self-sustaining.

“It’s very hard to start a program, especially one that is this large, and make it sustainable in only three years. I’m impressed you’ve come as far as you have,” Eagle County Commissioner Jill Ryan told Energy Smart leaders last week.

Energy Smart is a community program designed to help the economy and the environment. Originally funded through a $4.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, the program provides incentives for homeowners to make improvements that save energy and costs on utility bills. Those retrofits also result in more local construction jobs.

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 the program. Now the grant period is over and the goal is to keep it going on its own legs.

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The Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability is currently taking over from Eagle County on the primary leadership role for Energy Smart but the county is still a key player.

On Sept. 10, EVAS President Kim Langmaid and Energy Smart staff presented three requests to Eagle County Commissioners. One was approved and the other two will have to wait.

Commissioners agreed to support the program with $125,000 from the county’s Eco-Build Fund in addition to supplementing the salaries of two employees who will continue working on Energy Smart. Those salaries were formerly covered by the DOE grant. Energy Smart staff determined that $59,328 was needed to keep those employees through the end of the year. That money will come from Eagle County’s general fund.

The Eco-Build Fund is a 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. Half of the fund’s balance will now be used to cover the hard costs of Energy Smart. Those hard costs include rebates for 100 homes and 20 businesses, assessments, quick fixes and educational outreach.

Commissioners were unable to answer the other two requests last week because they are in the midst of crafting the 2014 budget. The requests were to consider supporting Energy Smart with another $125,000 from the general fund in 2014 and fund another full-time position through the county’s general fund.

“Why does the new position need to come from us – why can’t that be rolled into EVAS?” asked County Manager Keith Montag.

“This is a critical transition phase,” Langmaid said. “EVAS is a smaller organization with more turnover, so having the position with the county would provide greater stability and also helps bring together those partners to go forward on it.”

Even though commissioners couldn’t answer the two requests, they remain supportive.

“Keep going with the mindset that we’ll help the program continue through the end of the year and give us a chance to circle back after we’ve had a chance to have our financial meetings and look at some of the entities that are also seeking support,” said Commissioner Sara Fisher.

Future funding plan

Utility companies will likely be the main funding source for Energy Smart in the future.

“The idea is that the program is an entity that gets support mostly from local utilities, which have either a voluntary goal or a state mandate to meet energy-reduction targets. Energy Smart is a program that helps utilities meet their energy reduction goals, one house at a time,” said Yuri Kostick, a home energy advisor for Energy Smart and a sustainable project manager for Eagle County.

Energy Smart Program Manager Adam Palmer said a pilot program with Holy Cross Energy is just getting started and will continue through 2013.

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,” he said. “This is just a step in 2013 to continue that work.”

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