BOULDER — U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, and local renewable energy leaders gathered on the rooftop patio of a “carbon neutral” home in Boulder on Tuesday to publicize Boulder County efforts to lower local residential and commercial utility bills through energy retrofit programs and to kick off the upcoming Solar & Green Homes Tour.
Boulder County has been ratcheting up energy retrofit programs after the U.S. Department of Energy recently awarded a $25 million Better Buildings grant to three counties in Colorado – Boulder, Denver and Garfield. Under the federal grant, local energy retrofit programs will help property owners gain access to rebates and financing for energy efficiency and renewable energy upgrade projects.
Although mentioning the environmental benefits, Congressman Polis and many other speakers framed the county programs in primarily economic terms.
“We are getting Boulder County back to work by strengthening the construction industry that has been hit so hard in the recent years,” Polis said. “Although we’ve lost a lot of jobs on net basis in recent years, one of the few sectors that has seen growth is in renewable energy.”
Boulder County Commissioner Will Toor said the new grant will allow the county to “reach the next level of energy efficiency programs. We are going from getting audits to actually getting retrofits off the ground.”
In addition to policy makers, many local nonprofit clean energy leaders praised the new county programs and the New Energy Economy that the county and the state have pushed in recent years despite the “Great Recession.”
According to Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association Executive Director Neal Lurie, the solar industry in the state has grown from about 40 solar businesses in 2005 to more than 400 today – with 50 in Boulder County alone.
“We have more solar businesses in Boulder today than we had in the entire state five years ago,” said Lurie.
The $1.7 million “carbon neutral” luxury home that stood as the backdrop for Tuesday’s conference combined passive solar cooling and heating techniques with PV solar in order to take as little energy off the grid as possible – with wind and solar offsets used for the remainder to minimize carbon output.
Boulder Sustainability Coordinator Ann Livingston hopes that the federal grants will serve as a “shot in the arm” so that in three years the city will see a new social norm: “Instead of retrofitting your house with new granite counter tops, hopefully people will be putting in new insulation and other energy upgrades instead.”