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Mountain News: Good economic news sparse in Aspen

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Energy proposals sent to voters

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. - Voters in three mountain counties in November will be asked to approve an innovative program designed to encourage property owners to undertake energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements.

Commissioners in Eagle, Pitkin, and Gunnison counties (which include Vail, Aspen and Crested Butte, respectively) in recent weeks all agreed to put the question on the November ballot.

If approved, the counties can collectively issue bonds, making money available for loans. The idea came from Colorado's Boulder County, where voters last November approved a similar program. In California, the city of Berkeley had earlier introduced a somewhat different program but with the same intent.

The thinking is that we tend to move around a great deal, which is why most people are hesitant to spend money to improve energy efficiency or perhaps install a solar thermal collector. The payback on some improvements, such as insulating of walls and ceilings, can be rapid. Still, why go into debt to reduce the energy bill if we might sell in five years?

But the program in Boulder County tries to ease past that logic by offering below-market loans that are attached to the property itself, to be paid with the property tax. A government-backed issue of bonds will produce lower interest rates than would otherwise be available.

Even in Vail, the ceiling insulation in some condominiums and townhomes is only R-10. In comparison, energy-savvy experts now recommend at least R-49, and some even insist it's time to install R-59 or more.

While this program looks uncontroversial, at least some county commissioners worry that two months won't be enough time to sell it to the public. Especially daunting is the fact that the language, by Colorado law, must say in the opening sentence that the measure will increase the debt of the county.

There is some risk, if perhaps small, that each county in question would absorb debt for individual properties if the programs should fail.

In Gunnison County, there were additional concerns. According to a report in the Crested Butte News, the latest news out of Boulder County is that it's taking more staff time to administer this program than had been expected. Partly because of this, Commissioner Paula Swenson voted against sending the proposal to voters. If it gets rejected this year because of the hasty preparation, she said, it might not return for four or five years.

Longer runway means more profit

GYPSUM, Colo. - Runways at the Eagle County Regional Airport now are 9,000 feet long. That extra 1,000 feet will allow Boeing 757 jets, the most common users of the airport, to carry more weight when taking off during warmer months, thus accommodating more passengers, and hence improving profitability. Planes have more loft in winter, when temperatures are colder.

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