Vail Daily column: Energy efficiency in Eagle County | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Energy efficiency in Eagle County

Robert Castellino and Kat Haber
Valley Voices

Eagle home owner Paul Kulas points to his seven kilowatt solar system that produces more electricity for his home than it uses. Also, he has made many energy efficiency upgrades to make the home more comfortable and affordable. He started by getting an energy assessment through the Colorado Energy Smart program at Walking Mountains.

Holy Cross Energy may be one of the most experienced and reliably managed utility co-ops in Colorado. We could praise their many innovations. Rather, we challenge you to collect rebates from the 2 percent WECARE fund you are already paying into at Holy Cross Energy to dramatically improve your structures' efficiency and save you money.

Del Worley, CEO, and crew, 158 strong, make it happen. Listening is their secret to transforming a rural cooperative of the 20th century into the resort cosmopolitan customer-driven utility of the 21st. As demand for energy efficient technologies and systems change, Holy Cross is delivering new market-driven financing models and reshaping the energy landscape of the future right now.

Where does a home or business owner start to make energy efficiency improvements or upgrades? Sign up for an Energy Smart Energy Assessment at Walking Mountains Science Center online. Their trained analysts perform a comprehensive assessment, delivering a report and punch list for you to get to work on immediately. Plus, you get free energy conservation stuff on the spot like "programmable thermostats and energy efficient lighting up to $100." How much will the energy assessment plus upgrades cost? There is a $100 fee. Walking Mountains will show you how to qualify for residential energy efficiency rebates after you complete the assessment equal to 50 percent up to $1,000 for boiler or furnace replacement, water heating, wall/attic insulation, crawlspace/basement improvements, window replacement, air sealing, lighting and solar photo-voltaic systems. Additionally, commercial rebate program for businesses is available for up to 50 percent to a max of $1,500 for lighting, heating, cooling, refrigeration, grid-tied solar photovoltaic systems and other items like a technical energy audit. Include federal tax energy credits, upgrades and improvements become reliable, doable and affordable.

How long is the payback period? "The return on investment for the average Colorado homeowner can be made as quickly as five to six years including energy efficiency upgrades, LED lighting improvements combined with a solar PV system installation," according to Adam Stenftenagle CEO at SnuggHome, a leading software provider for energy auditors. Return on investment depends on the extent of the upgrades and improvements and the terms of financing.

Consider this tale of two Eagle County homeowners: Joe finances a gas-powered automobile, buys electricity from a coal-fired power plant and natural gas from a conventional utility. Mary finances an electric or hybrid vehicle, energizes her home in part with solar photovoltaics connected to the grid, managed by Holy Cross Energy. Joe's monthly costs are: Car financing at $450 per month, home fuel and electricity at $261 per month, and gasoline at $105 per month for a total of $816 per month. Mary finances an electric vehicle, home energy efficiency upgrades and solar photovoltaics for $725 per month, reducing home fuel costs to $91 per month for a total of $816 per month. Joe and Mary pay the same per month for Years 1-5. Mary, though, after five years no longer has payments and saves $725 a month with a minimal home fuel bill of $91 per month, saving $16,000-plus for years 6-10, Mary also reduces her carbon output by 1.7 metric tons each year, decreasing her total carbon foot print by 17 metric tons over 10 years.

What is the result for Eagle County's residents? Once Mary's loans are paid off after five years, she saves about $8,700 a year for the next five years. Multiply this by thousands of home and business owners in Eagle County and we've created a real local stimulus by redirecting the way we invest our energy dollars. Imagine if you and thousands of Eagle County residents made the switch by 2020. Eagle County would have one of the most vibrant and resilient micro-economies in Colorado. That's a stimulus package everyone would have a part in, without raising taxes or asking the state or federal government to intervene with legislation. With enough freed-up capital, might the county commissioners even consider building a light rail public transportation system?

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How many sustainable, clean, safe and renewable energy companies and jobs could we create? The valley could be far more pleasant to live in with far less road noise with electric rather than gas-powered vehicles. Millions of metric tons of carbon burnt from fossil fuels would be stopped from being pumped into our air. Just because we don't see it does not mean it's not there. It is and we can do something about it now. Breathe easy. Be easier on your budgets. You can easily join in this change for your family or business.

How can a challenge this large be so easy to solve? Really, here's how: Eagle County take up the charge to move 5,000 homeowners to make the switch or tradeoff from conventional fossil fuel vehicles and energy systems to renewable systems by 2020 — that's a thousand homes every year for five years. You can help rapid prototype this solution from possibility to reality in the Eagle County Climate Challenge on Monday at CMC. Invest your day for big savings.

Robert Castellino is the founder and CEO of Climate Colorado, the annual Colorado Climate Summit, and created the concept of regional Climate Challenges. He is a professional photographer, writer, author, coach, speaker and book publisher. He has written five best-selling and critically acclaimed books on Colorado. His TEDx Vail talk, "Solving the Climate Crisis by Rapid Prototyping Change," is on YouTube. He may be reached at robertc@climatecolorado.org.