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Proposed energy tax generates questions, some answers

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(Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series on issues related to Carbondale’s proposed Climate Action Excise Tax).

By Lynn Burton

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

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One question has come up more than others during recent discussions about Carbondale’s proposed Climate Action Excise Tax, which would increase taxes on residents and businesses electric and natural gas bills, and is up for a public vote on April 5.

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The question: Why doesn’t Ballot Question 2A mention specific programs to help the town address climate change and meet the goals set out in its “Energy and Climate Protection Plan.”

The short answer, CLEER staffer Erica Sparhawk told The Sopris Sun: “We (the town) wanted flexibility without being locked in to specific programs.”

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And one reason for flexibility is the speed at which new sustainability technology is being invented and put to use.

“We’re receiving excellent technology fast,” Sparhawk continued. Some technology wasn’t even market-ready or economically feasible even two years ago. “But look at LED blubs … ” she said “ … there’s better solar than five years ago.”

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Rather than tie the town to specific programs should voters approve the ballot issue, some programs in the clean energy Scope of Work the trustees accepted from CLEER and CORE on March 2 will be expanded with the extra $350,000 per year generated over the tax’s six-year lifetime.

The “income qualified” program is one example, Sparhawk said. The ballot language does specifically say that programs for low-income people will be funded first from the tax. “If the climate tax is approved, it will provide funding to serve approximately 80-income qualified families … each year … ,” said a memo from CLEER/CORE to the Carbondale Board of Trustees dated Jan. 13. “This enhanced program will provide direct installs and free energy efficiency upgrades for residents — depending on the home’s need — which could include a furnace or boiler tune-up and safety check, insulation and air sealing, a high-efficiency refrigerator … LED light bulbs, or a programmable thermostat, all free of charge.” For this program if the tax is approved, the town could leverage up to 200 percent in funding by working with local utilities and other partners. Getting low-income families to sign up for the program would include an outreach effort that would include door-to-door visits with bilingual CLEER staff members. “The toughest part is getting people energized,” Sparhawk told The Sun. “ … How do you get 80 low-income families to sign up.”

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Should voters approve Ballot Question 2A, the money would be put in a Climate Action Fund. A “draft program summary document” for the fund, prepared by CLEER/CORE lists more than 10 possible programs, including:

• Spur neighborhood-wide improvements, competitions and collaborations;

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• Create bulk purchases to provide affordable rooftop solar systems over the six year period of the tax;

• Provide direct install items, rebates and incentives to home and businesses owners for energy efficiency upgrades and renewable energy systems.

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• Partner with RFTA to develop opportunities to expand the local circulator bus and use alternative powered buses.

And how will the town decide which programs to move forward? Mayor Stacey Bernot gave this answer in the March 3 Sopris Sun: “Through ongoing dialogue at public meetings with our advisory boards, interested public, and commissions following the framework of the 2020 (Energy) plan.”

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Published in The Sopris Sun on March 31, 2016.

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