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Energy efficiency loans pushed in Vail Valley

Matt Zalaznick and Scott Miller
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL VALLEY. CO Colorado – Homeowners in Colorado’s Vail Valley could get loans from a county program to make energy efficient and renewable energy improvements to their homes under a proposal that will be presented to the Eagle County Board of Commissioners Tuesday.

Matt Scherr, of the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability, will ask the commissioners to consider placing a question on the November that would create a special taxing district. But, Scherr said, the only people who would see property tax hikes would be the homeowners participating in the program.

“The only people that pay it are the people who take out loans to improve their properties, so it’s not in my mind a tax,” Scherr said.

Thanks to a recent change in state law, the county – with voter approval – could create a special district that would issue bonds to give low-interest loans to homeowners. That homeowner would then pay the loan back through property taxes until selling the home, when the new owner would take on the tax.

Now, a homeowner who takes out a loan to re-insulate or install solar panels has to continuing paying the debt after selling the house, Scherr said.

Another benefit of the program would be increased work for local contractors when homeowners took out loans to make improvements. In Boulder County, which recently created a similar program, 400 building permits were issued to homeowners making energy improvements.

“In Eagle, for instance, if we had 50 additional building permits … that is a lot of work for our community,” Scherr said.

The idea will be presented to the Board of County Commissioners at today’s work session, which means it won’t vote on putting the program on the ballot. Still to be determined are how big a bond the county would ask for and whether Eagle County’s big enough to support the program.

Eagle County Commissioner Peter Runyon said the program doesn’t cost other taxpayers.

“It would be a voluntary thing,” Runyon said. “It’s already in place in Boulder, and I understand most people have used it for insulation upgrades.”

Runyon said if a home sells, repayment of the lien becomes the responsibility of the home’s next owner.

“It then becomes a negotiating point in the sale price,” he said. “This is for people who want to do the green thing, and not take the upfront hit of paying for it.”

But former County Commissioner Dick Gustafson says he’s skeptical about the program, and its claims that all taxpayers won’t take on at least some of the financial obligation.

“It sounds like another harebrained idea to get more money out of the taxpayers,” said Gustafson. “Why would anyone want to raise the taxes on their property,” he said.

Gustafson, who acknowledges he’s also skeptical about the usefulness of renewable energy, said the program sounds to him like the federal “cash for clunkers” program, which in his opinion is a wasteful use of taxpayer money.

If the program is adopted, Gustafson wondered if the county would also change the zoning in neighborhoods where solar panels currently aren’t allowed.

Scherr says the reason to put the question on the ballot this year is that the Obama Administration has made low-cost bonds available through the end of next year for energy projects.

Scherr also said that, in Boulder County, the program held workshops to educate homeowners. Some of those homeowners got loans outside the program to make energy improvements, he said.


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