Breckenridge council on board with program that would mitigate energy use for outdoor amenities

Breckenridge council on board with program that would mitigate energy use for outdoor amenities

Located at 460 Timber Trail Road in Breckenridge, this seven-bedroom, 7.5-bath home sold for $17 million in June, setting a new record for Summit County. According to the High Country Conservation Center, the amount of electric energy the home uses for snowmelt each year is equivalent to the total electric energy used by 16 homes in the Wellington Neighborhood.
Photo from Jonathan Huffman / Summit Media

The next piece of the puzzle in working toward the Summit Community Climate Action Plan goals is in the works: mitigating outdoor energy use.

At the Breckenridge Town Council meeting Tuesday, July 13, town Sustainability Coordinator Jessie Burley and High Country Conservation Center Climate Action Director Jess Hoover presented plans for a countywide program to mitigate outdoor energy use, and council was fully on board.

The purpose of the program would be to reduce emissions from outdoor amenities — such as snowmelt systems, natural gas fireplaces, pools and large hot tubs — by:

  • Creating economic price signals to reduce excessive outdoor energy use
  • Offsetting energy used outdoors with renewable energy
  • Leveraging dollars from energy efficiency and renewable energy products

Basically, Hoover said folks will be encouraged to first reduce their outdoor energy use, then to offset outdoor energy use with an approved renewable energy system and finally to pay a fee should there still be excessive energy use.

The program came to fruition because several programs and initiatives already in place aim to minimize indoor energy use, but outdoor use had not been a focus until now.

“We’re really trying to encourage good design and forward thinking about what truly is necessary and what perhaps could be mitigated before even moving forward into this program,” Hoover said at the meeting.

There are exceptions within the program, though. Hoover said residential hot tubs that are above ground, insulated and less than 64 square feet are exempt as long as there is only one per household.

Snowmelt exemptions are also in place for the sake of public safety, allowing 100 square feet adjacent to the home or a commercial emergency exit. For residential fire pits and heat tape, the program would not apply if the items have timed controls. Commercially, the program proposes a smaller offset for permitted fire pits and radiant heaters.

For existing systems, Hoover said the stakeholder group wants to see the program apply when a permit is pulled for replacement or expansion.

Burley said that in town planning code, these types of outdoor energy uses receive negative points — which shows that it is undesirable in the planning phase — but those points can easily be offset by adding additional landscaping, among other potential workarounds.

“We’re not seeing a direct mitigation of that outdoor energy use in the current development code,” Burley said at the meeting.

The proposed program is being developed in partnership with the Climate Action Collaborative and a working group similar to the one that reviewed the Summit Sustainable Building Code. Stakeholders in the group include builders, businesses, designers, energy professionals and local governments.

Hoover said the group is also working with a consultant from the Resource Energy Group, which has worked with Pitkin County and Crested Butte on similar programs.

Burley presented information from Pitkin County, which has had a program like this for almost 20 years, and she said the county has saved over $2.8 million in energy annually as well as 22,000 tons of carbon.

“Over time, they’ve seen that you can really leverage the renewable energy mitigation portion of this, and they’re seeing a lot more (renewable) systems going in instead of developers who choose to pay the fee,” Burley said.

Burley explained the scope of the outdoor energy use, particularly the high quantities of snowmelt systems in Breckenridge. In 2019, 10,000 square feet of residential snowmelt was installed at single-family residential units, using 828.6 million British thermal units of energy annually. A Btu is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of a pound of water by 1 degree Fahrenheit.

In order to offset that much energy, 186 kilowatts of solar would be needed, which would require about one-third of one Breckenridge solar garden. This estimate only encompasses single-family residential units in the town and not other types of residential or commercial snowmelt systems.

To put the proposed program into perspective, Hoover showed how it would apply to the recent record-breaking, $17 million sale of the home at 460 Timber Trail Road. The home includes 4,842 square feet of snowmelt across a heated driveway, entryway and patio, which would require 401.2 million Btus of energy per year to operate. Under the program, the snowmelt system alone would require 98 kilowatts of solar energy to offset or a fine of $292,853.

Hoover said the amount of electric energy this one home uses for snowmelt each year is equivalent to the total amount of electric energy used by 16 homes in the Wellington Neighborhood.

Hoover said the program aims to incentivize folks to install solar as opposed to paying the fee. She said those who install solar get large discounts from the government with residential and commercial getting a 26% tax credit. Hoover added that if someone maxes out the amount of solar they can install on their roof and still isn’t completely offsetting their energy use, they would pay a reduced fee.

“This fund that would be created goes back out into the community to help provide rebates and grants for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects,” Hoover said.

Burley said the proposed next steps would be to return to the stakeholder group with council feedback before revisiting with council in the fall. She also said the goal is to have the program take effect March 1, 2022.

While the full council was supportive of the program, some members said they would like to see the timeline accelerated. Burley said there is no reason the town needs to stick to the proposed timeline.

Town Manager Rick Holman said the program would likely require amending the town code, adding that if council agrees on the terms of the program, it can start revisions to the code whenever it’s ready.

Community Development Director Mark Truckey suggested getting an overall proposal with the county to create consistency for contractors. Mayor Eric Mamula agreed, saying he is interested in hearing what other municipalities have to say.

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