Energy district wins big in Pitkin County
November 4, 2009
PITKIN COUNTY – A program designed to spur investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects won big in Pitkin County on Tuesday, and by a lower but still comfortable margin in Eagle County.
Pitkin County voters approved an “energy smart local improvement district” by a vote of 2,624 to 969. That is a margin of 73 to 27 percent.
Eagle County voters approved the energy improvement district 3,446 to 3,032 or a margin of 53 to 47 percent.
A coalition of individuals and organizations, many in the conservation community, campaigned in support of the measure in Pitkin County.
“I think it was like a saturation bombing,” said Auden Schendler, the executive director of sustainability for the Aspen Skiing Co., who helped organize the campaign.
Chris Hassig, who was hired to manage the campaign, said proponents stuck to the fundamentals of campaigning – yard signs, door-to-door contact and newspaper advertisements. The ads featured the people and organizations that backed the measure.
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“In Pitkin County, we didn’t have any opposition to speak of,” Hassig said.
Nevertheless, the healthy margin of victory “surprised” Schendler. The ballot question referred to county government debt, which always spooks some voters, he said.
In fact, the energy improvement district doesn’t cost taxpayers a dime. Pitkin County was authorized to issue up to $7 million in bonds. That will create a pool of money for low-interest loans to homeowners and business owners. They can apply for loans to undertake energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.
The ballot question said qualified energy efficiency projects include adding insulation, replacing inefficient heating and cooling systems, replacing inefficient lighting systems and fixtures, and sealing air leaks.
Renewable energy projects include solar electric installation and improvements, solar hot water installation and improvements, and wind energy projects.
Eagle County voters approved issuing up to $10 million to provide loans for such projects.
Pitkin County Energy Program Manager Dylan Hoffman said the administrative system to manage the program hasn’t been designed yet. However, there is a model in Boulder County, which approved a similar program last year.
In simple terms, property owners will get a “not to exceed bid” from a contractor for a project, then apply to the county for a loan. The county will make sure the project qualifies. It will combine the projects, issue bonds to cover the costs, then give property owners permission to proceed. Once the projects are completed, the contractors will be paid.
The loans will be paid back through a special assessment on the property tax of property owners who choose to participate in the program. The loans are tied to specific property and are transferred with the property in case of a sale.
“County residents who choose not to participate would see no higher tax rates or new taxes,” said a campaign website in favor of the proposal. It doesn’t affect any property owner who doesn’t want to borrow money.
Schendler and Hoffman said the timing of the project couldn’t be better. The creation of the program will provide work for contractors in energy-related fields and possibly add “green jobs,” they said.