Laurie Dickson, executive director of the Four Corners Office for Resource Efficiency, says the last 10 months have been a bit of a roller-coaster ride for the agency.
Since the Trump administration took over in January, drastic cuts to energy programs and an overall change in policy from the previous administration have raised questions about the local nonprofit’s ability to function.
“We’re seeing a lot less grant opportunities,” Dickson said. “It’s a change.”
The Four Corners Office for Resource Efficiency, better known as 4CORE, is a local nonprofit that works to promote efficient energy use, typically through renewable energy sources, to communities throughout Southwest Colorado.
Since the group’s inception in 2008, it has followed through with numerous energy-efficiency projects in Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma and San Juan counties.
Because of 4CORE’s projects, more than 5.5 million kilowatt hours have been saved (the average house in Colorado is about 9,000 kW per year); almost $950,000 has been saved as a result of energy-efficiency upgrades, renewable energy installations and electric vehicle programs; and 3,905 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions were eliminated, about the equivalent of filling a small two-story house with carbon dioxide.
Some of President Donald Trump’s drastic cuts to energy grant funding, mostly within the Environmental Protection Agency, could have critical impacts to 4CORE’s ability to continue to provide these services.
For instance, Dickson said Trump’s nearly 80 percent reduction of funds to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Justice program will limit what 4CORE can do in 2018, Dickson said.
Over the past few years, that same environmental justice fund was used to provide solar energy to a low-income housing development in Durango, saving $5,000 in annual utility costs for the community’s 61 households.
That’s crucial savings for low-income families, which sometimes spend up to 30 percent of their earnings on utilities.
“Energy efficiency isn’t real sexy,” Dickson said. “It doesn’t have the same sort of emotional appeal, and yet the stories we hear is that it does make big changes in people’s lives.”
Even the way the nonprofit has to write grants has changed, Dickson said. To secure the few grants available, Dickson said she was advised to shy away from any reference to climate change.
“And we’ve seen a complete turnover in staff,” said Dickson, concerned that new employees may not be familiar with the work 4CORE does.
The other major source of 4CORE’s funding is from the Department of Energy, which is undergoing its own changes in the Trump administration. In recent months, the department, previously supportive of renewable-energy sources, has reinforced a position behind fossil fuels.
“This industry is leading the world in affecting the climate and affecting the climate in a positive way,” U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry told oil industry executives on Monday. “I’m proud to be a part of this industry. You want to talk about saving lives, that’s what we are doing.”
Dickson, aware of the changes to come, started planning earlier this year.
“I think every nonprofit organization has to always assess how we work going forward,” she said.
Dickson said 4CORE might have to start looking for more local funding sources.
“Over the past couple years, we haven’t had a lot of emphasis on local funding other than the great support we get from LPEA,” she said.
LPEA has been a major contributor of 4CORE, donating almost $250,000 in equipment costs, supplies and labor. Other past partners have included the city of Durango and La Plata County.
Although the future is uncertain, Dixon said the group’s work is nowhere near done.
A recent report found more than 7,200 homes in La Plata County, nearly 30 percent, are considered “cost-burdened,” which means 30 percent or more of a family’s income goes to utilities.
“Our mission is pretty clear,” she said. “Providing affordable means and a path to saving energy is what we’re about.”