As Carbondale considers energy tax, Boulder says one there has been successful
Carbondale voters are considering increasing taxes. One would allow property taxes to go up to help pay for capital costs — like sidewalks and roads. The other would tax electricity and natural gas use. As Aspen Public Radio’s Elise Thatcher reports, the energy tax is modeled closely on a similar one in Boulder.
Jonathan Koehn is regional sustainability coordinator for the city of Boulder. One of his first tasks, back in 2006, was finalizing the details of what’s called the Climate Action Plan Tax or cap tax.
“I would say say that the Boulder CAP Tax has been wildly successful,” Koehn said last week. “It really was intended to be a funding mechanism to increase participation in our efficiency and conservation efforts.”
The city of Boulder aims to dramatically cut carbon emissions by 2050. When voters passed the electricity use tax in 2006, the idea was to take the money and pay for rebates and other incentives, to help people reduce their carbon footprint.
“When they first adopted it, there was certainly a break-in period where they had some ideas on how they were going to spend it,” said Boulder Daily Camera reporter Erica Meltzer on Thursday.
The tax is widely popular now, “but it was a bit of a rocky start and it took a little bit to get some programs going that now nearly everyone agrees are a good use of this money.”
Boulder was building a framework from scratch, focusing on energy audits and rebates. But residents often didn’t follow through with improvements to their homes or businesses.
They were overwhelmed by choices for boosting energy efficiency, like whether to upgrade their furnace, windows, or insulation. So Boulder started using the electricity tax dollars to pay experts to help residents decide.
“Being able to pair a homeowner or a business with an energy advisor, who effectively walks you through the process,” said Koehn, “... created this big shift. Before this change we’d have about 10 percent of residents actually implementing the strategies. And that changed to about 65 to 70 percent after we changed the model.”
That’s one of several tweaks to how Boulder is spending money and trying to reduce energy use. Former mayor Michael Hassig is one of the key proponents of the Carbondale tax proposal, and likes implementing a similar approach with new tax dollars.
“I think it’s really necessary to help people sort through what their options are,” he said at home on Friday, sitting at his kitchen table.
But if Carbondale’s measure is approved, there would be some stark differences between the two communities. Boulder only taxes electricity and rakes in about $1.8 million a year.
Carbondale would collect for natural gas usage as well, for a total of about $352,000 each year. Proponents say the average household in Carbondale would pay $36 to $60 annually.
“One word of advice,” said Koehn about the tax in general, “is be clear on what the goals are in terms of how to utilize the dollars. And get input from stakeholders on how those dollars should be spent.”
Koehn helped write the measure voters are considering in Carbondale.
Exactly where Carbondale’s tax money would go has been a question from some residents and Trustee candidates this spring. Hassig said there are steps in place to make sure the revenues are effectively handled.
“The tax would go to a fund administered by the trustees… [who] would ask for volunteers for a citizen’s committee analogous to the environmental board, the board of appeals, like the tree board, [and] they would be tasked with devising the programs and helping to issue the RFP’s. And then making recommendations back to the trustees about here are the people who responded and these seem like the appropriate ways to go."
Two local organizations that might submit proposals would be CLEER and CORE, Clean Energy Economy for the Region and Community Office for Resource Efficiency.
They’re already running energy efficiency programs, and the energy tax was initially proposed to help cover a chunk of those costs. Other funding are drying up.
“What gave the advisory committee confidence was that there is a very successful track record of programs that encourage renewables, that encourage efficiency. But no one wants to propose this as specifically supporting CORE or CLEER or other analogous programs. Because that doesn’t seem appropriate for a measure like this.”
Boulder saw a big increase in people using advisors, rebates and other tools when the city mandated that landlords and businesses meet certain efficiency requirements.
Michael Hassig said that’s not part of the long-term strategy for Carbondale’s energy tax, “mostly because people would react negatively to it, but how many more positions would need to be funded at town hall.”
Voters are deciding now whether to approve the new energy tax, and raise property taxes for town improvements. The spring, all-mail in election ends on April 5.