08 November 2009

Boulder County Commisioner Will Toor on ClimateSmart

Boulder County Commissioner Will Toor sends in the following comments following a bit of discussion on this blog about the recent Boulder County ballot initiative on the ClimateSmart Loan Program which failed. One clarification of Will's comments below in which he suggests that I don't approve of the program -- I do support the program, I simply think that it is misrepresented as being "climate" anything. It is an energy efficiency program and should be labeled and promoted as such. Further the failure of this modest program to win expansion in the recent election in Boulder County, which is more than just Boulder, should motivate some hard thinking about the program and its marketing. Such programs cannot do much if they are only successful in places like Boulder (city limits) and Berkeley. Anyway, here are Will's thoughtful comments. If you have questions for him, I'll be happy to pass along.
The ClimateSmart Loan Program was approved by the voters of Boulder County in 2008,when 172, 531 ballots were cast in Boulder County, and 63.7% of the voters approved the program. Voters authorized $40 million in bonding authority, to be used to finance energy efficiency and renewable energy investments on residential and commercial properties. The program is not paid for by tax revenues; rather, participating property owners voluntarily opt into a local improvement district, and the financing is paid back through an assessement that is paid along with the property taxes. The program has been very popular, and noncontroversial; to date, approximately 650 properties have participated, and $13 million of bonds have been issued, for efficiency and solar improvements. This has been a boon to the local construction industry, a boon to participating homeowners, and contributes to reductions in GHG , without requiring tax increases. There is $27 million available for 2010, so the program will continue to expand in 2010.

A ballot issue to increase the bonding authority by another $85 million failed this week, in a much lower turnout election (62,667 voters) by a margin of 50.97% to 49.03%. One reason for this was the nature of the local election - there were high profile races in a more conservative town in Boulder County, which had 40% turnout and voted against the issue by a margin of over 60-40, and only 30% turnout in Boulder, which voted for the issue by a margin of over 60-40. In addition, unlike last year, there was no campaign to explain what the issue was about. While the loss at the polls in Boulder County could cause the current bonding capacity to be used up by late 2010, it is highly likely that it will be back on the ballot in November 2010, with an active campaign this time, and with an even year election leading to high voter turnout, it will probably pass.

The program has been so successful that 3 other counties in Colorado placed the same program on the ballot this year, and it passed in all 3 (Pitkin, Eagle, and Gunnison Counties), and cities and counties around the country are developing similar programs. The Obama administration has seen the power of this model, and initiated a national effort to help local governments develop these programs, as a mechanism to generate investment in energy efficiency retrofits (this was announced two weeks ago by VP Biden in the Recovery Through Retrofit announcement). So the bigger story is not about limits to climate policy, but is about the explosive growth of a new financing mechanism that has the potential to move large investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy. This is precisely the sort of policy instrument that you should be supporting. It is not emissions trading, or attempting to increase the cost of energy, or any of the other policy directions that you criticize. Instead, it is designed to spur investment in efficiency and clean energy, in a way that invites a wide range of stakeholders from across the political spectrum to participate.