Building back greener is a community value and Boulder County is stepping up to help fire victims

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Starting next week, we’ll see a new bill introduced in the Colorado Legislature to help victims of natural disasters – such as the Marshall Fire that destroyed more than 1,000 Boulder County homes – receive financial support to rebuild their homes sustainably, says Will Toor, who heads the state’s office of energy.

This is just one of many recent examples of how our Colorado community – public, private and nonprofit – is showing a remarkable ability to come together and help neighbors in need, while battling the crisis. global climate that we experience at home. .

“There’s something to be said about the fact that we just experienced a climate-fueled wildfire disaster that suggests we should want to rebuild in a way that attempts to address the climate,” says Toor, who lives in Boulder. “And there are a lot of efforts underway to bring resources to the table.”

A greener building future where gray ash now sits was questionable last week when a crowd of around 300 gathered outside Louisville City Hall to protest the city’s November ordinance 2021 which requires the construction of new homes to comply with the latest International Energy Conservation Code for energy efficiency.

The protesters are our friends and neighbors who have lost their family homes and some beloved pets. Many are now living outside the county in cramped hotel rooms with children, hoping and praying to rebuild soon and return to their communities. Many were also underinsured – some for hundreds of thousands of dollars – through no fault of their own, highlighting a massive need for reform. Couples who were hoping to retire now find themselves applying for new loans.

We can only imagine how the news of increased energy efficiency requirements for buildings felt like a blow to those who no longer have a home – it must feel like another financial burden and planning. An initial estimate provided to Louisville suggested that, on average, these needs would total $20,000 per home.

The Louisville City Council is understandably poised to exempt Marshall Fire victims from having to follow the updated codes, while the City of Superior has exempted its citizens from similar requirements. Being more energy efficient is now a voluntary goal. We support these measures to help reduce stress at this time of crisis for so many.

We also wanted to see if there could be a way for our community to come together and provide the means to seize this opportunity to rebuild with resilience in the face of fire and to deal with the climate crisis, but without adding to the financial burden of people who are still reeling from the most destructive wildfire in state history.

What we found blew us away. We shouldn’t be too surprised to find that in Boulder County – a leader in supportive and innovative climate response – help to build back better is growing at an exceptional rate, and we hope that victims of the Marshall Fire will give real clean energy and carbon reduction consideration, in part because there are long-term savings.

High on the list of big helpers is Xcel Energy, which deserves a lot of praise for offering a range of discounts starting at the low end with $7,500 going into the pockets of people who choose to meet the standards. of 2021.

New data shows that initial cost estimates of $20,000 to meet these standards are too high. According to the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the primary supporter of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Building Technologies Office’s Building Energy Codes program, the incremental cost of moving from the 2018 green building standards to the newly adopted 2021 standards (including an increase 19% for labor and supply costs) is about $5,000 total per house. This means that if an owner is able to pay that $5,000 cost to reach the 2021 standard, Xcel will return $7,500.

Xcel is offering an additional $30,000 to those who want to take steps toward more efficient, energy-efficient structures with good insulation, for example, that can put them on the path to a net-zero energy home.

Toor’s office worked closely with Xcel to make this happen, and is part of a larger coalition that includes former Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones and the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project. west, where she serves as executive director, Boulder County Office of Sustainability, Climate Action and Resilience, city governments, the nonprofit Colorado Green Building Guild and others who each contribute in their own way to cost-cutting measures to help homeowners rebuild for a smart, healthy and sustainable future.

The fruits of their labor include solar companies and major heat pump manufacturers now offering deep rebates, new grants, and a new donor-advised fund through the Community Foundation called the Marshall Fire Resilient Rebuild Assistance Fund.

What’s happening today says a lot about who we are in Boulder County, says Zac Swank, building environment coordinator for Boulder County’s Office of Sustainable Climate Action and Resilience. “We support, love and care for our neighbors and now we hear all of these businesses reaching out and wanting to help.”

In an effort to make it easy for fire refugees to connect with coalition green builders, gain educational support and financial assistance, Swank’s office is set to develop a website to serve as a hub information for Marshall Fire victims to build green from the ground up. at the top.

The time has come. Last week, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest report which shows we are code red, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said. We face a rapidly closing window of opportunity to create a sustainable future by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and building resilience.

If climate goals are of value to Boulder County — and they clearly are — we must work together to find creative ways to make them happen even under the most difficult of circumstances. Fortunately and unsurprisingly, it seems that we are clearly up to this challenge.

— Julie Marshall for the Editorial Board

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