CORE: Greening the valley and saving people money

by Amelia Potvin and Mona Newton, Special to the Aspen Daily News
Recently, a letter to the editor by one of your readers raised some valid questions about the role of nonprofits that promote energy efficiency in the Roaring Fork Valley (“Money for Carbondale employees or money for questionable studies and programs,” Aspen Daily News, Sept. 30). In the case of CORE, the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, the answers are easy.

CORE was founded in 1994 to work cooperatively with businesses, individuals, utilities and government entities to create measurable improvements in energy and water efficiency in order to benefit the environment and develop a more sustainable economy.

At that time, CORE’s board member partners — Holy Cross Energy, Pitkin County, the city of Aspen utilities, the town of Basalt, the town of Carbondale and the town of Snowmass Village — made the prescient decision to provide annual funding to one central organization that could enact energy and economic development progress on behalf of the entire community. They continue to provide annual funding and collaborate closely with CORE staff to direct efforts toward the most cost-effective and publicly relevant projects.

In 2000, CORE and the building departments in Aspen and Pitkin County co-created the Renewable Energy Mitigation Program (REMP), a landmark code that establishes an energy budget for new construction. Properties with extraordinary energy use have a choice: decrease project size, install on-site renewable energy or pay a one-time mitigation fee. CORE administers those funds under the guidance of Pitkin County and the city of Aspen through rebate and grant programs.

While a variety of private and public sources contribute to CORE’s operational budget, the power of REMP cannot be understated:

• REMP has provided a direct, reliable source of funding for local homeowners, businesses, schools and nonprofits that will provide them over $20 million in cost savings over project lifetime.

• Through both rebates and grants, REMP has leveraged upward of $14 million of investment from participants and our financial partners. Those dollars went directly into the local economy, strengthening our green industries and providing work for contractors, solar installers, energy analysts and others.

• CORE has awarded over $6 million from REMP fees for building improvements to schools, affordable housing projects, public buildings, infrastructure and nonprofit community organizations. In 2010 alone, 449 people received CORE rebates; 131 of those were in Carbondale. 

Most importantly, REMP has been the financial backbone of CORE’s work to change culture and strengthen the community economy. On the policy side, CORE has helped municipalities adopt progressive energy codes and set a higher standard for the built environment.

For example, the Aspen Fire Protection District won a 2009 REMP grant for a state-of-the-art building that produces its own electricity through solar PV on the roof and gives high visibility to efficient design features, including window glazing, ventilation, lighting and natural daylight. Far from a stand-alone, the fire station is now the baseline for new construction in Aspen.

This year, CORE awarded a REMP grant to RFTA for electric vehicle charging stations in the new VelociRFTA bus stations — yet another leap forward for the valley.

Through building-code and financial incentives, REMP has built energy awareness across the region, established a market for building efficiency and renewable energy installations as well as for green design and construction, and incented lower energy/emissions footprints in the built environment.

Moreover, REMP is the cornerstone that allows CORE to obtain about half its budget from state and federal grants, private foundation grants and private donations. One important example is a 2011 Governor’s Energy Office Main Street Efficiency Initiative grant that assisted 23 businesses, including a lighting improvement at Aspen’s Keating Fine Art and new windows at the Little Red Schoolhouse in Snowmass Village.

The biggest investment that REMP and CORE’s Board partners have leveraged is a $4.9 million Department of Energy grant to Pitkin, Eagle and Gunnison counties. The resulting program, Energy Smart, has assessed 9 percent of the housing stock in Pitkin County and completed comfort, safety and efficiency retrofits in 264 homes.

Energy Smart has proven that individuals still benefit from a one-stop-shop that can provide information, instruction, materials, financing and access to professionals under one roof. CORE provides that. Our 2010 Home Energy Makeover Contest offered workshops to 25 homeowners and saved the winner, Steve Vanderleest of Glenwood Springs, 35 percent on his utility bills. That level of guidance just isn’t available “with a few clicks,” but it’s what it takes to get the efficiency job done.

Furthermore, CORE provides an organizing presence and a focal point for the dreams of the community.  In 2011, four groups launched projects through the Sustainable Communities Team Challenge, including a COREmmuter Challenge, two local food projects and a mobile home renovation for a veteran. This year, over 450 people participated in CORE’s Local Foods Challenge and other Waste Free series segments focusing on DIY efficiency, transportation and disposables.

Through all this work, the intentions of community members to conserve energy and green the grid is omnipresent. What is still a challenge, and what CORE offers, is a conduit from desire to action to measured savings.

So now, with $80,000 from the town of Carbondale, CORE and Garfield Clean Energy invite residents and businesses to step forward and join this collective progress. It is, after all, partner organizations and the residents of the Roaring Fork Valley who make these programs come alive.

We are indebted and grateful to our board members, and humbled to support the vitality of this region and the brilliance of our neighbors.  You can’t find all that on the Internet.

Learn more at

Amelia Potvin is community sustainability coordinator for CORE and Mona Newton is executive director.