PitCo Puts A Hard Limit On Outdoor Amenity Energy Use

PitCo Puts A Hard Limit On Outdoor Amenity Energy Use

In aggressive pursuit of its climate goals, Pitkin County building code will now impose an exterior energy use cap that targets luxury amenities.

The Pitkin County Board of Commissioners passed the new section of building code in a 3-2 vote at their Wednesday meeting after four discussions since first reading in December. 

The Exterior Energy Budget for residential properties in Pitkin County will be 200 million BTUs per year; a BTU is a metric for energy consumption.  

Outdoor amenities like snowmelt, heat tape, exterior heaters, and pools are all included in the budget. Any outdoor energy use falls under the budget. 

The exact number of applications that would be affected by the change was not clear. 

No exterior energy uses will be exempt from the new limit. 

The code also requires the installation of a solar array mitigation or payment of a Renewable Energy Mitigation Program (REMP) fee of $17,432.38 from anyone installing any outdoor spa, or hot tub.

Chief Building Official Jeff Erickson explained that the code was written this way to account for hot tubs’ significant energy use for their relatively small physical footprint.

“All hot tubs, regardless of the size, are captured in the energy budget,” he said. “Outdoor hot tubs are the highest energy use of all exterior energy uses.”

He said hot tubs are about five times more energy consumptive per square foot than snowmelt, and that estimate may be on the low side.

The REMP fee may be waived for heat tape or snowmelt if its installation is demonstrated to be necessary to mitigate a life/safety concern.

The average external energy use for Pitkin County homes is 125 million BTUs annually, according to Community Development staff. 

The updated code will take effect 30 days after its approval by the board. Much of the discussion across the four meetings circled around how applications currently in the land use or permitting process would be affected by the new code.

Commissioners Patti Clapper and Steve Child voted against the measure, citing concerns for those applicants. 

Commissioner Chair Greg Poschman and Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury were clearly in support of the new code. The final vote came down to Commissioner Francie Jacober.

“What I got from that explanation (about the appeals process) is that if you’re not within the language of the building code, they don’t have grounds for granting an exception,” she said. “I don’t see a way to victory for people who appeal.”

Ultimately, she was not willing to vote down the cap over her concerns.

Land use and building permit applicants will have access to the county Board of Appeals, just as they do with other county processes. But the appeals board does not have the power to nullify the energy cap.

The commissioners directed staff to draft language in the ordinance for some applicants to appeal the new budget, particularly for those applicants that offered some sort of “creative” emissions offset solution.

That language made it into the draft ordinance considered at Wednesday’s meeting, but the commissioners ultimately voted for it to be struck in the final version.

The county declared a climate emergency in 2021. Two major goals were set with that declaration: Reduce annual emissions by 90% from 2019 levels by 2050 and require all new residential development to be net zero by 2030.

Staff stressed that this code change was vital to achieving those goals.

No one denied the importance of climate mitigation efforts, but the nay votes from a place of concern for the appeals process, Clapper said. 

During public comment, land planners voiced concern for their clients whose applications were somewhere in the permitting process that would cause them to incur new costs, delays, or inconvenience due to the code change. 

“The appeal process should mirror the county’s Board of Adjustment variance process,” said Glenn Horn, a local land use planner. “The appeal process can easily be designed, so an applicant can appeal the strict compliance of the external energy regulations prior to building permit submittal rather than waiting until a building permit is denied.”

Public comment leaned in favor of the change, however, with representatives from Aspen One and the Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE) speaking in support.

“Is there a climate emergency or not?” asked Auden Schendler, Aspen One senior vice president of sustainability. “This is an absolutely, incredibly important critical measure. We think it should be adopted without the opportunity for appeal.”

The City of Aspen, the City of Gunnison, Routt County, and Steamboat Springs have also all adopted similar codes as a rule of general applicability, meaning they apply to everyone.

When the measure finally passed, members of the public in the room burst into applause.

By: Josie Taris| The Aspen Times I March 15, 2024

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