Carbondale's community connector

A look at Carbondale’s energy-efficiency programming

Locations: News Published

By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff Writer

A little more than two weeks ago, Carbondale’s elected leaders and three closely-interrelated energy-efficiency consulting companies came up with a list of projects and programs on which to spend the $50,000 the town has set aside for energy programming in 2017.

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The three consulting firms — mostly known by their acronyms; CLEER, CORE and GCE — have been working with the town for years to reduce Carbondale’s “carbon footprint” by helping local businesses, homeowners and the government itself to upgrade the structures around town by installing solar technology and energy-efficiency technology as a way of helping locals reduce their energy consumption.

CLEER (Clean Energy Economy for the Region), CORE (the Community Office of Resource Efficiency) and GCE (Garfield Clean Energy) all maintain offices in Carbondale, at the Third Street Center.

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Among the priorities recommended by CLEER and CORE, and adopted at a Board of Trustees meeting on March 14, was a plan to spend $15,000 of the overall allocation to help low-income residents (and their landlords, where applicable) improve energy efficiency in their homes and apartments.

In addition, according to a program summary contained in the meeting’s agenda (available on the town’s website), the projects planned over the coming year include:

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• Spend $6,000 on programs aimed at continuing to increase the energy efficiency of town-owned buildings and facilities, in order to get the town to “net-zero” energy use;

• Spend $10,000 of town money to accomplish “energy retrofits” in local commercial properties, by “leveraging” the town’s money through grants and other funding options;

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• Spend $8,000 to “finalize” the community’s Climate Action Plan, which has its roots in the town’s original Energy & Climate Protection Plan, begun in 2005;

• Spend $3,000 on what is characterized as the community’s “climate-friendly transportation,” which essentially will be in the form of support for Carbondale Bike Week, using grants to augment the town’s contribution and encourage increasing use of bicycles around town.

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• Conduct free “energy assessments” for local home buyers, to the tune of $5,000 in town funding and that much again in funding from utilities and from CORE.

The program outline also allocates $3,000 in expenses for “project management” by the CLEER team, bringing the total to $50,000.

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In addition, CORE has signed on to continue its role as advisor to Carbondale’s Energy Board (known locally as the E-board); look into ways to increase the town’s wastewater treatment plant’s energy efficiency; conduct research into permits for a small hydroelectric facility on the Nettle Creek Water Plant’s outflow facilities; and launch a “community outreach and engagement”  effort, known as the High Five initiative, to get more of the Roaring Fork Valley’s residents involved and active in the effort to reduce energy consumption and shrink the region’s carbon footprint.

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What’s the diff?

As noted above, CORE, CLEER and GCE have been working with the Town of Carbondale (and other governments) for years to increase energy efficiency and help save local tax revenues and private dollars.

Some have expressed confusion about exactly what difference there is between CORE, CLEER and GCE.

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It was CORE that emerged first, in 1994, thanks to an inspiration largely credited to its late executive director, Randy Udall. CORE’s original office was in Aspen and its initial mission to assist the region’s communities in achieving greater energy independence and reduction of those communities’ greenhouse-gas emissions into the atmosphere.

CLEER got its start in 2003, under a different name, as a nonprofit working on transportation related issues, but in 2008 it changed its name and, with GCE, went to work primarily with Garfield County and the six towns located in the county on energy-efficiency and renewable-energy projects designed to reduce the towns’ dependence on fossil fuels and their emissions of greenhouse gasses. It is CLEER’s job, according to program manager Erica Sparhawk (who also serves as a Carbondale trustee) to deliver the services laid out in contracts between CLEER and, say, the Town of Carbondale or other governmental jurisdictions.

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But CLEER also works with entities outside the immediate region, such as a nonprofit known as Refuel Colorado, in a continuation of CLEER’s initial focus on transportation issues, Sparhawk said, while CORE restricts its work to jurisdictions located strictly within the Roaring Fork Valley.

Both CORE and CLEER have annual revenues and expenses of slightly more than $1 million, and the two share an office in the Third Street Center in Carbondale, in part to avoid stepping on each others’ toes, operationally speaking.

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“We work very closely with CORE to make sure we are not duplicating,” said Sparhawk, who later added, “We acknowledge the overlap (and the resultant confusion in the public mind), and that’s one reason we share office space in Carbondale.”

Mona Newton, executive director at CORE, acknowledged that there had been some talk about merging parts of the two organizations to reduce the confusion and potential for duplicating efforts, but the idea was abandoned due, in part, to differences in the organizational foundations of the two groups.

Between CORE and CLEER, according to both Sparhawk and Newton, there is a division of duties that includes CORE’s responsibility for conducting energy audits for homes and businesses, while CLEER and GCE take care of supporting the installation of energy-efficient technology or other programs intended  to increase the efficiency of homes and businesses.

Meanwhile, GCE is in charge of the Energy Navigator program, which involves installation of monitoring equipment (mostly in government and institutional settings) that permits clients to track their energy use and make modifications to reduce the rate of energy consumption in the facilities in question.

Conceding that the organizations are confusingly close in their goals and operations, Sparhawk remarked, “We truly understand the confusion, but there is enough interest in the area of people wanting to reduce energy use and save money and avoid greenhouse-gas emissions … there is enough to keep both entities very busy.”

Published in The Sopris Sun on March 23, 2017.