Improving local energy literacy
New ‘clearing house’ for energy efficiency takes shape

A compact fluorescent bulb, seen here, uses one-third the energy of an incandescent bulb and can save $30 in energy costs over its lifetime. Such simple energy efficient measures will be the focus of the newly forming Four Corners Office of Resource Efficiency, or 4CORE./Photo by David Halterman

by Missy Votel

As Durangoans prepare to celebrate another Earth Day, an effort is under way to help local residents live cleaner, greener lives the other 364 days of the year.

An offshoot of the Southwest Colorado Renewable Energy Society, the Four Corners Office of Resource Efficiency, or 4CORE, is currently forming as a “clearing house” for information on energy and resource efficiency.

“The main purpose is to increase literacy around energy efficiency and renewable energy and make people more aware of their options,” said Greg Phillips, a local consultant and member of the 4CORE Executive Committee.

According to the group’s mission statement, its goals are to: encourage people to integrate energy efficiency and renewable energy into their daily lives; bring energy efficiency and renewable energy opportunities to consumers, businesses and institutions; and to help regional energy efficiency and renewable energy businesses succeed and thrive.

In so doing, the office will also offer educational resources, such as literature and workshops; and rebate programs and incentives for buying and installing energy efficient systems. Philips said the group is also examining the possibility of a local trading exchange for carbon emissions whereby companies can offset their energy usage by buying blocks of green power, thus mitigating their impacts. “The idea is, if you use 30 kilowatt hours of energy, you can buy the equivalent of that in green power – or renewable energy certificates – and you’re essentially becoming carbon neutral,” said Phillips.

The group formed last November in the wake of an energy summit, hosted by the City of Durango and La Plata Electric Association and held at Fort Lewis College. The concept is based on similar offices in Pitkin and Gunnison counties. Although the Four Corners incarnation is still in the conceptual stages, 4CORE has already garnered wide support, with the city, La Plata County, BP America and LPEA each climbing aboard with $3,000 for the creation of a business plan. Phillips said the plan should be completed within the next few months and will offer specifics on staffing and funding of the office. “There are a number of ways the office could be set up and funded,” he said.

Although numerous stakeholders are involved, from the oil and gas industry to environmental groups, 4CORE is currently operating under the umbrella of the nonprofit San Juan Resource Conservation District. Philips said there is such wide support for the group for a number of reasons.

For starters, in recent months, both the city and county have signed onto the Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement, whereby municipalities pledge to reduce carbon emissions according to standards set forth by the Kyoto Protocol. The pact calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 7 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2012, and it is hoped the 4CORE will help provide a means to that end.

“The goals and objectives of 4CORE go hand-in-hand with the U.S. Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement,” said County Manager Michael Scannell. “It’s a wonderful endeavor that includes a number of people from a number of different entities focused on a common goal of good stewardship and resource practices. It’s important for the county to take a leadership role.”

Cori Andreatta, of Ecohome home supplystore, holds a piece of insulation made entirely of recycled denim. Educating the public about such energy saving measures will be the focus of the newly forming 4CORE. By educating people on energy efficiency, the group will not only help the environment but the local economy by keep dollars that would other be spent on importing energy in the revenue stream./Photo by David Halterman

Newly elected City Council member Michael Rendon said he has been involved with the formation of 4CORE, and he is glad to see it get off the ground. “It’s been talked about for a long time, and now there’s a great group of people wanting to make it happen,” he said. “It’s a needed thing. People don’t know how much they can save. They don’t know what is out there as far as tax credits, rebates, etc.”

Likewise, Phillips said LPEA has been heavily involved, as well. Recently passed legislation, House Bill 1281, mandates that rural electric cooperatives must provide 10 percent of all electricity from renewable resources by 2020. “LPEA is motivated because they want to encourage use of renewable energy,” he said. “Currently, they’re paying $2 per kilowatt hour back to people supplying their own energy through solar systems, and we’re hoping to expand on that program.”

But more so than encouraging the use of renewable energy, 4CORE is interested in furthering the basic notion of energy efficiency in local minds. “The one area that doesn’t get enough attention is energy efficiency; it’s just not as sexy as renewables and solar panels,” said Tim Wheeler, a local businessman active in the creation of 4CORE.

Rendon agrees. “Everybody talks about solar panels and wind power, but it all starts with energy efficiency,” he said.

According to Wheeler and Rendon, increasing energy efficiency is perhaps the easiest step someone can take, yet it creates the most immediate returns. Wheeler uses the example of replacing normal incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents. “Not only are you saving pounds and pounds of carbon dioxide from getting into the atmosphere, but homeowners save money on energy bills and they don’t have to keep throwing lightbulbs into the landfill.”

He also noted that becoming more energy efficient makes sense from an economic standpoint, as well. “One of the key ideas of 4CORE is to keep money circulating in the local economy,” he said. “One way to do that is to stop sending money out to bring energy in. We want to limit the import of electricity and foster a sustainable economic picture.”

Furthermore, the pursuit of a more energy efficient lifestyle will result in more jobs, he added. For example, as people strive to cut energy use, they will need the services of energy auditors to show them where they are losing heat and green builders to help them incorporate more energy efficient measures.

Most importantly, however, Wheeler noted that 4CORE will strive to impart upon people the notion that becoming more energy efficient will not be an inconvenience or sacrifice to the way they already live their lives. “An ‘investment in efficiency’ does not mean a reduction in service,” he said. “We’re not asking people to do less with less. We’re trying to show them that you can do the same things you’re doing, or more, with less.”

Wheeler said he expects the 4CORE business plan to be completed by the end of summer, which will determine the full size and scope of the organization and enable it to go after more permanent funding.

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