U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet was in Durango on Monday to promote legislation he co-sponsored that would provide
low-interest loans for property owners to make energy-efficiency upgrades.
The bill, the Rural Energy Savings Act, was introduced in March and would allow customers of rural cooperatives like
La Plata Electric Association to repay the loans through an extra charge on their utility bills.
Bennet is one of six senators - two Republicans and four Democrats - who have signed on to the bill, which was
introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon.
LPEA Chief Executive Officer Greg Munro, in a meeting with about 15 community leaders at the new Durango Transit
Center, told Bennet the devil is in the detail" on the bill.
How can we administer those loans and make sure they get paid back?" he asked.
Munro pointed out that many of the most energy-hungry homes are older and occupied by low-income tenants.
The loans would provide for energy-efficiency upgrades on those homes, but the landlord isn't paying the electric
Bennet said, We've got to figure that out."
Paul Broderick, a Durango city councilor and banker at First National Bank of Durango, said another challenge is that
the cooperatives don't have experience or expertise in administering loans.
If it doesn't work on the ground, it's going to be a dud," he said.
Munro told Bennet that cooperative managers from around Colorado are meeting in Denver today to talk about the bill.
Let me know if you guys come up with some feedback on any of this," Bennet said.
He said the bill would create much-needed jobs in the building trades, which have been hard-hit by the recession.
Under the proposed program, trained auditors would determine what energy efficiency improvements are needed. The
loans would range between about $1,500 to $7,000 and have an interest rate of about 3 percent. They would cover
upgrades to sealing, insulation, heating and air-conditioning systems, boilers and roofs.
The loan period would be not more than 10 years; the energy savings from the upgrades would be expected to cover most
or all of the cost of the loan.
Munro, in a telephone interview after the meeting, said that, in general, LPEA is supportive of the bill but wants
The LPEA board is going to be looking at that to see if we can endorse it," he said.
Under the legislation, cooperative boards would vote to decide whether they want to participate in the program.
There's no mandate here," Bennet said.
Bennet started his visit Monday morning with a tour of energy-efficiency improvements at Carver Brewing Co., voted
Green Business of the Year by the Durango Chamber of Commerce in 2010. The tour was followed by the meeting at the
transit center, and then Bennet and his staff returned to Carvers for a closed-door meeting with local Democrats.
After that, he met briefly with The Durango Herald editorial board, then he and his staff were headed back to Front