SUPERIOR — The Superior Town Trustees voted unanimously Monday evening to exempt Marshall Fire victims from the town’s newly adopted 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), paving the way for fire victims to opt out of the costly upgrades that will now be required on all new homes built in Superior.
The new code has been debated for several months. In January, the Trustees put off discussing it further, at that time saying the matter was tabled indefinitely, but then brought it back at its February 14th meeting after Xcel Energy made promises of rebates — that the monopoly utility can’t actually guarantee — for fire victims who couldn’t afford the additional cost.
At odds, however, was just exactly how much the new codes will cost residents versus how much they might get in rebates to offset the cost. Environmental advocates brought in by the Superior town staff gave estimates of about $5,000 in incremental increases to the cost of building, but some say that number is far below reality.
One resident, who reported losing three investment properties in the fire, said based on his conversations with electricians and other contractors that the cost estimates to build under the new green energy code are much higher than the town staff is reporting. He added that people cannot afford the added cost of making sure homes are solar ready, electric vehicle charging ready, and all-electrification ready, stating it will be between $350 to $400 per square foot to rebuild.
“It’s going to take a hell of a lot of money to rebuild, and there is a lot more to this 2021 code than they are letting on with the costs, and it’s far more significant than what they are claiming,” he said.
At $350, the average 2,000 square-foot home would cost at minimum $700,000 to rebuild, many times more than most of the Superior homes are insured for because they were built 50 years or more ago.
At Monday night’s meeting a representative from the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP), speaking on behalf of Xcel Energy, said that Xcel had expedited its planned incentives for approval, and could now assure the town that the rebate would stand at $7,500 for any destroyed home meeting the new code.
However, it was not discussed that the Public Utilities Commission still needs to approve the incentives because those incentives will be paid for by a ratepayer increase to all Xcel Energy customers. That process could take as long as nine to 10 months, with no guarantee the rebates will get an okay.
The Town Council moved forward anyway with the adoption of the new code, with all members saying they were comfortable passing the code knowing that fire victims would not have more undue hardship added to their situations.
Under the new resolution, the addresses for properties that were destroyed will be kept by the town clerk. Only structures that existed prior to the fire will be allowed to opt out. For example, if someone owned one building on three lots but chooses to build three buildings on those three lots, only the one building that existed prior to the fire would be allowed to opt out from the new code.
Whether or not a resident chooses to opt out will become part of the building permit process. Town staff promised to make sure messaging was clear that if a resident submitted a permit to build under the 2018 codes that they “did so consciously, and they are choosing to opt-out knowing what that means.”
Board member Neil Shah was frustrated that the Xcel incentive was tied to the town being forced to adopt the 2021 code.
“Let’s not forget that Xcel Energy is a publicly traded company,” Shah said. “They made $1.6 billion in net income last year. They can offer these incentives out of their back pocket without having the entire community adopt these codes. … They could — out of a gesture of goodwill because we’re trying to help this community rebuild — just offer $10,000 to each homeowner. It’s not that big, and I think they should do that anyway. That $1.6 billion in net income is just one year. We just lost 1,000 homes in the Boulder metro area. It’s time to step up.”
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