Aspen City Council on Monday gave the go-ahead for the housing authority to start a year-long pilot program that will make some affordable units in the government’s inventory energy efficient.
The program will select about 10 Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority (APCHA) sale units that qualify for quick, high-impact energy efficiency improvements. The upgrades will take place during the time period when they are sold to new residents and include items like sealing air leaks, and installing energy efficient shower heads and faucet aerators.
The upgrades will cost new homeowners about $2,000 to $3,000, depending on the size of the unit, and the expense will be paid upfront by them.
That money will serve as an investment, and will be paid off in about five years from savings realized in utility bills, said Elyse Hottel, the city’s environmental initiatives project coordinator, who proposed the program in a work session on Monday.
If the buyers do not make the money back over time, the city will reimburse them for the upgrades, Hottel said.
City Council members were amenable to the idea of an energy efficient affordable housing system, but questioned whether or not the program would be cost effective.
There is no guarantee that buyers who invest in the upgrades are going to make the money back through utilities savings, and then the burden of paying for the upgrades will fall on the city, said councilman Adam Frisch.
“Are we doing it to save money or are we doing it to save energy?” asked Frisch.
Frisch was open to the idea of the city taking a financial hit for the sake of making APCHA units energy efficient, but if that is the case the city should be prepared for the blow, he said.
Hottel, who works with the city’s Canary Initiative whose goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, acknowledged that the idea for the program came from a place that prioritized energy efficiency over financial concerns.
Still, the goal of the case study is to prove that the city can save energy while saving money, Hottel said.
“We wouldn’t be proposing this program if we didn’t think we could save dollars,” Hottel said.
City officials estimate that homeowners will be reimbursed for their investment at a rate of about $10.74 per month for a smaller unit.
The units selected must be built before the International Energy Conservation Code was first adopted in 2003. They also must have separately metered electricity and not have comparable units that have been for sale for more than three months to avoid burdening sellers in particularly soft markets. Also, resident-owned units will be excluded from participating and only city of Aspen housing stock will participate in the pilot program, for the sake of simplicity, Hottel said.