The Pitkin County commissioners are poised to put a question to voters this November that would allow the county to provide loans to homeowners to make their houses more energy efficient and reduce their carbon footprints. The commissioners are scheduled to give a second public reading of the resolution today. They also hope to finalize the language that will go on the ballot.
The proposed ballot measure would allow the county to issue $5 million in bonds, to be used for loans to homeowners for green upgrades.
Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland and Aspen City Manager Steve Barwick said they believed the local appetite for weatherizing homes and moving toward renewable energy cannot be satisfied by just $5 million. Both addressed the board during the public comment period of a special commissioners meeting on Tuesday.
“The main reason we’re here is we think $5 million is too small,” Mayor Ireland said. “We think there could be $5 million used in the city of Aspen alone.”
Barwick added that he has heard widespread interest in the proposed program from affordable housing complexes, just one of which, he pointed out, could use up the $5 million all by itself.
Payback on the loans could be as long as 15 or 20 years, depending on what the commissioners decide today, and would stay with the property if the homeowner sells it before paying their loan off in full. The loan repayments would appear on participating homeowners’ annual property tax bill.
The commissioners are due to debate what kind of interest rate they should charge on the loans today. They expressed displeasure with the idea of possibly charging as high as a 10 percent rate.
“I don’t want to be associated with a high interest rate program,” said Commissioner Michael Owsley, noting that he hoped this measure would help fixed-income residents who would benefit enormously in the long run from the potential savings they would reap from home improvements, but might have a tough time paying a high interest rate.
Commissioner Jack Hatfield concurred: “A 10 percent interest rate? I mean, come on! Don’t bother.”
County officials in Eagle and Gunnison counties are pursuing similar measures this fall. Boulder County voters approved $40 million in bonds last fall for its “Climate Smart Loan Program.” A measure asking for another $40 million will be on the ballot there in November.
“We are hoping to do this regionally,” Commissioner George Newman said yesterday.
Commission chair Patti Kay-Clapper requested her board review the details of Eagle County’s ballot question before finalizing Pitkin County’s today. She said Gunnison’s measure was not expected to garner enough support from voters to pass there.
The state Legislature passed a law last year paving the way for counties to create a “Clean Energy Local Improvement District,” through which they can issue bonds for energy-efficiency improvements on local homes. A consultant from Gov. Bill Ritter’s Energy Office was at Tuesday’s meeting to provide information and answer questions.
Pitkin County energy program manager Dylan Hoffman said his goal is to make it easier for locals to install money-saving renovations without incurring upfront costs.
“What we want to do is give people a road map,” he said.