For Mona Newton, executive director of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, or CORE, helping Roaring Fork Valley residents reduce energy use in their homes and businesses is more than just a job. Newton has been in the clean energy field for a quarter of a century. When she was in graduate school at the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, she read “Soft Energy Paths: Towards a Durable Peace” by energy guru Amory Lovins and was hooked. “I’m one of the converted,” she said.
Newton worked for Boulder County Weatherization and the Center for Resource Conservation, and spent four years as a regional representative in Colo. Gov. Bill Ritter’s energy office before taking the reins at CORE in 2012. She said Colorado ranks 16th in the nation for energy efficiency. “A lot of Front Range communities are doing really good work,” she said. “Carbondale and Aspen are amazing, but Colorado needs to take action.”
For 20 years, CORE has been doing just that. CORE opened in 1994, under the direction of the late Randy Udall. “Randy was a bit of an antagonizer who got people to think about choices,” said Newton fondly.
CORE started the nation’s first solar production incentive program in 1998, which, according to the organization’s website, pays local rebates to residents for solar photovoltaic systems. Newton said this can eventually lead to “net zero” energy use. “If a residential system generates more energy than it needs, that energy becomes a credit at your utility or wherever you get your energy from,” she explained.
During the day when a household uses less electricity, whatever is generated by the solar system is returned to the grid. Then, at night when energy use is higher, electricity is drawn from the grid. “If you use the same amount of energy that your system generates for the grid, you become energy independent,” she said.
Newton added that CORE rebates and loans keep the cost of a home or business solar energy system affordable. “We want to dispel the myth that solar is not affordable or too wonky for the average person.”
CORE staff has created a handy guide of residential rebates for everything from energy assessments, appliances, insulation, and heating and cooling to solar thermal (hot water) and photo-voltaic electricity systems. According to the guide, CORE rebates and federal tax credits can reduce the cost of a 2-panel, residential solar thermal system by about 75 percent. And, if you can’t pay up front, CORE also offers loans.
In 2010, Pitkin, Eagle and Gunnison counties received a $4.9 million grant from the federal Department of Energy to set up energy resource centers in all three counties. Each county allowed a local nonprofit, like CORE, to deliver the services. “Our goal was to reach 10 percent of the homes in all three counties and reduce overall energy use by 15 percent,” explained Newton. “We reached our goal.” And they spent all the money.
But in late 2013 Pitkin County gave $900,000 to CORE to continue the program through 2015 and spread the benefits to Glenwood Springs. Loans are now available valleywide. CORE provides loans in Pitkin County and Clean Energy Economy for the Region (CLEER) provides them in Garfield County. “It’s an excellent example of [CORE’s] partnerships with local governments,” said Newton.
CORE’s budget is about a million dollars annually and is funded by grants, private donations, and Pitkin County’s Renewable Energy Mitigation Program (REMP), which basically assesses a one-time fee for new houses over 5,000 square feet. “[Homeowners] can avoid the fee by installing renewable energy features on the house,” explained Newton.
REMP has raised more than $12 million since 2000, which CORE has used to provide energy conservation services from Carbondale to Aspen. “We have to use that money to mitigate carbon emissions,” she said.
Other programs include the Randy Udall Energy Pioneer Grant, previously known as the Green Key Grant. Newton said the name was changed to honor Udall. “We wanted to recognize his legacy and contribution to the community,” she added. These grants have put a solar PV system on the Carbondale Library roof and will fund electric vehicle charging stations at RFTA park-and-rides this year.
CORE is also collaborating with CLEER and the town of Carbondale to make the town more energy efficient. By 2020, the goal is to increase energy efficiency and reduce energy consumption by 20 percent, reduce petroleum consumption by 25 percent, and generate 35 percent of Carbondale’s electricity from renewable energy sources.
Newton looks forward to the day when home and business owners will install solar energy systems for the sake of the environment and not just for a financial payback. “Recycling is second nature now in many areas,” she said. “Kids don’t know that we used to throw away aluminum cans. Energy efficiency needs to be the same.”
For more information about the Clean Energy 2020 Carbondale initiative and other CORE programs and services, visit www.aspencore.org or call 970-963-0190 or 970-544-9808.