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Building Science

Reducing Our Carbon Footprint — Part One

Boulder County’s Climate-Smart loan program

ClimateSmart is a joint effort across Boulder County designed to help individuals, families and businesses increase their energy efficiency and reduce their carbon footprint.

How many of you have searched the Web to calculate your carbon footprint? I have, and it is exciting, intimidating, and perhaps an all-consuming process. More than 10 years ago my husband and I signed on with Xcel Energy support wind power. We installed a programmable thermostat and set the temperature higher in the summer and lower in the winter. Now, because we live in a county that is offering homeowners carbon reduction on a “green” platter, we can delve even deeper into understanding our carbon footprint.

Climate Smart is a loan program for Boulder County homeowners to make energy-efficient and renewable-energy improvements to their residential properties. Last November, voters passed a measure to reduce our environmental impacts, the first community to do so. From what I hear, we are being closely watched as a potential model for other municipalities around the country.

We have seen a large increase in greenhouse gas emissions across our county, which prompted Boulder to adopt the Kyoto Protocol toward a long-term carbon neutrality goal. Thousands of us—including my husband and me—are applying for a greener, healthier, happier (makes me happier to walk my talk on multiple levels), and more affordable home energy package through the Climate Smart program.

The program basically supports energy-efficiency and renewable-energy measures through a countywide pool of funds obtained through sale of bonds. Property owners opt in, and the great news is that homeowners can get loans that may even cover the full up-front cost of improvements. A special assessment is placed on the residential property, and payments are made via property taxes, which keeps the repayment responsibility with the benefitting property.

Boulder County will be monitoring the results of the program with measurable metrics. Participants will be required to sign a utility-bill waiver so that the program’s impact can be assessed for the first round of loan distributions.

The county has apportioned $28 million for residential properties. Assuming an average loan size of $10k, the program can provide approximately 2,800 residential loans. The minimum loan is $3,000 per home, and the maximum is as follows:

  • Open loans funded by taxable bonds: 20% of statutory actual value of property or $50,000, whichever is less
  • Income-qualified loans funded by tax-exempt bonds: $15,000, as per federal law
  • Income-qualified loans may be combined with open loans up to the open loan maximum

We—the homeowners—will support the program through a $75 application fee, a loan origination fee (1 to 2% of the loan value), and a small portion of the assessment rate.

Repayment will be made through a 15-year loan attached to the annual amount due on property taxes. Paying the remaining loan balance is acceptable, but no partial prepayments are allowed.

In addition, rebates and incentives are available through federal deductions and “Solar Rewards” through Xcel, our energy provider. The Xcel rebate will be deducted from the loan amount, lowering the overall amount of the loan up-front.

This awesome program has no ineligibility of any kind and creates an opportunity for many—including us—to participate. So far, only 1,200 homeowners have registered, but program administrators anticipate that 2,800 more will enroll during the short window of opportunity between April 1 and April 10.

Priority loans will be given to homeowners who have had energy audits, including blower door test with infrared, efficiency measures, and time/date stamp on application. Keep your fingers crossed that we are selected to participate!

We have received several not-to-exceed bids for solar electric power and will be applying on-line on the morning of April 1st! Stay tuned for Part Two, where we take action to reduce our energy usage.


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