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Eagle County, Colorado

Energy Smart Program

Location: Eagle, Pitkin, and Gunnison Counties, Colorado
Seed Funding: $4.9 million
Target Building Type: Residential

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Three Resort Communities in Colorado Get Smart With Energy Upgrades

Colorado's popular ski resorts attract a diverse population of vacationers, second homeowners, and seasonal workers. Half of the homes in these resort communities are claimed as second homes, occupied only 25% of the year. The other half is a mix of middle income and multifamily rental properties. When it comes to reaching this diverse array of residences with an energy efficiency program, targeting the various audiences and meeting their very different needs requires flexibility.

With $4.9 million in seed funding from the U.S. Department of Energy's Better Buildings Neighborhood Program, the counties of Eagle, Pitkin, and Gunnison in Colorado launched Energy Smart in January 2011. The program is a one-stop-shop to simplify access to information, finances, and a skilled workforce to make energy efficiency upgrades in a variety of housing types.

Program Design: Data Help Target Home for Energy Improvements
Workforce Development: Energy Experts Turn Evaluations Into Upgrades
Driving Demand: Selling Energy Efficiency to Neighborhoods
Financing: Three-Tier Approach to Financing

Data Help Target Home for Energy Improvements

Home to the popular ski areas of Vail, Beaver Creek, Aspen, Snowmass, and Crested Butte, Colorado is one of the first states to focus on energy efficiency in resort communities. In order to target housing complexes and second homes, Energy Smart is working with local utility providers to find aggregated data that reflect total energy usage and intensity by home type. The program is using this information to select specific neighborhoods that most need education, outreach, and incentives to spur direct upgrade action.

Energy Smart is developing the tools to calculate actual cost savings by house type, size, and construction date and recommend specific upgrade measures, in order to better inform homeowners of their savings potential. After signing up to participate in the program, homeowners are visited by an energy expert, who conducts a home energy evaluation and provides several quick fixes, such as programmable thermostats, efficient lighting, pipe insulation, and high-efficiency showerheads, among others. Homeowners are also directed to available rebates and financing options.

Energy Experts Turn Evaluations Into Upgrades

Working with Colorado Mountain College to provide Building Performance Institute (BPI) training, Energy Smart targets existing home improvement professionals to become energy experts. The idea is that professionals who conduct energy testing and provide recommendations are best qualified to implement the chosen upgrades. By establishing a relationship with the homeowner from the start, the contractor builds rapport to use in completing subsequent energy efficiency upgrades. Energy Smart offers individuals $1,000 toward BPI training, which can cost up to $1,600, and loans them energy efficiency testing tools to reduce initial investment on the contractor's part.

Before sending out a trained energy expert, Energy Smart surveys enrolled participants for their perceived efficiency needs, complaints, or energy concerns. The program then matches the homeowner with a professional who is experienced in the areas relevant to that homeowner's needs.

Selling Energy Efficiency to Neighborhoods

Although Colorado's public utilities have expanded their energy efficiency incentive programs, and statewide efforts have helped reduce the cost of energy efficiency upgrades, homeowners still lack awareness of these programs. Energy Smart in Gunnison and Pitkin are hosting parties for homeowners associations to encourage neighbor-to-neighbor outreach. These parties showcase homes that have received improvements and provide personal perspectives to homeowners interested in learning more about energy efficiency first-hand. As a way to increase awareness and encourage community involvement, Energy Smart in Eagle County is supporting energy awareness in schools and sponsors an Energy Club and other related school events. To provide streamlined information to homeowners, Energy Smart also created Energy Resource Centers to be one-stop shops for homeowners to learn more about the various incentives and rebates available. These centers have a full-time home energy advisor who coordinates energy check-ups, provides individualized return on investment tools to the homeowner, and offers financing advice.

Three-Tier Approach to Financing

Recognizing that homeowners have different needs and means for investing in energy efficiency improvements, Energy Smart offers three levels of financing, depending on the upgrade option. The first tier involves a three-way cost share among Energy Smart, the utility, and the homeowner. Homeowners pay $50 of the $300 home energy evaluation, and Energy Smart partners with the utility to cover the remainder of the cost. From there, homeowners who implement recommended upgrades receive an Energy Smart Efficiency Booster rebate of 20% of the total cost, up to $200.

For the second tier, Energy Smart is working to establish a loan loss reserve fund to encourage banks to set lower interest rates for loans to make energy efficiency upgrades. The third tier option includes on-bill financing and a property-assessed clean energy (PACE) program, which allows the loan to be paid on the property tax bill. Energy Smart is working to establish both of these options.


Adam Palmer

U.S. Department of Energy
Better Buildings Neighborhood Program