Better Buildings Through Partnership: An Update from Boulder County

Ann Livingston, Sustainability Coordinator, Boulder County

Boulder has received an EECBG grant for $25 million to replicate programs the city has been pursuing for years to reduce its carbon footprint through more efficient buildings.

In 2005, the city adopted greenhouse gas emission reduction goals that reflect the Kyoto Protocols and are more ambitious than the state goals. The target is a city with net zero waste and energy.

Prior to Xcel launching its home audit program, Boulder’s Residential Energy Action program subsidized energy audits for city homeowners. Post-audit counseling was offered to encourage audit participants to make recommended improvements. Consumers who now get audits from Xcel can still get counseling from Boulder.

Audit participants who did take action invested about $7,000 in upgrades on average. The city launched the Climate Smart loan program to add more funding for improvements–$3,550 for energy efficiency-only projects, and up to $13,000 for projects that encompass both renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The overarching program goal for BetterBuildings program is to provide a one-stop shop for energy efficiency that will overcome the traditional barriers to consumer’s investing in energy efficiency. The city aims to save $100 million annually and to create jobs with the program.

RFPs for the residential, commercial and joint contractor services have been awarded. The city plans a soft launch for the program from late October to December.

BetterBuildings will provide energy audits with focused one-on-on assistance, financial assist and ongoing support. Energy Corps, a local business, will do onsite air sealing during blower door tests. An “energy concierge” facilitates conversion by helping homeowner to find contractors, apply for rebates, microloans and other financing. The cost will be same or close to Xcel’s audit program.

Xcel, Boulder’s power provider, is assisting with some of the direct installs. The city has synched up call centers with Xcel. The target is to hit 10,000 homes in three years.

Boulder’s commercial program involves direct outreach through neighborhood sweeps to identify energy-saving opportunities in small businesses. Rebates are available to encourage business owners to do maintenance that would improve efficiency, or to change out old, inefficiency equipment and systems.

Program partners include Xcel, which assisted Boulder with the application, marketing and implementation, and the city of Longmont, which helped with program design. Contractors and labor helped in the application phase and will help with marketing.

In the next phase of BetterBuildings, the city will work on successfully engaging contractors to sell energy efficiency, and not just “granite countertops.” Bringing the programs to self-sufficiency in three years is another goal, as is continued job growth and a sustainable jobs market. For every federal dollar spent, another 70 cents of Boulder money was spent. Developing closer partnerships with utilities will smooth the way to the goals.