Boulder County, Environment, Featured, Marshall Fire, Sherrie Peif, Superior

Xcel rebates offsetting costly building codes in Superior likely inadequate, far from certain

SUPERIOR — Multiple media reports of rebates being offered by Xcel Energy to Marshall Fire victims from the Town of Superior are under question, as the rebates — which were offered only after Superior officials agreed to Xcel’s demands for a new building code — are not guaranteed.

Not only has the proposed $7,500 rebate not been approved by the Public Utilities Commission, a process that could take until 2023, but it appears the Superior board was essentially strong-armed into its decision to adopt new and costly “green-energy” codes, as Xcel Energy made the rebate conditional on an “all-or-none” vote.

Although Superior Town Trustees — after debating the topic at several meetings over the last few months — voted unanimously on Feb. 28 to allow fire victims to opt out of the new building codes, it did so only after a far-left environmental group helped craft the language to assure Xcel got its demands.

The 2021 International Energy Conservation Codes (IECC) are a strict set of rules to force new and costly “green” building standards. Superior’s code also added amendments that require all new-builds to be electric vehicle ready, electrification ready, and solar ready. Town staff said the idea is to make it easier on people who want to use any of these energy sources in the future because they won’t have to retrofit their homes. Those estimating the costs connected to the new codes say it’s less expensive to prepare a home upfront than to retrofit it later.

Marshall fire victims said the costs (which are estimated between $5,000 to $100,000 depending on who you ask) far exceed what insurance will cover, and they should not be held liable to build to the new codes.

While neighboring Louisville adopted the new codes prior to the fire and recently voted to exempt fire victims within its boundaries from the new codes, Superior had not yet adopted the code, so staff wrote the resolution so that fire victims in that jurisdiction must take an extra step and opt out officially to the town.

Xcel plays hardball

The language of Superior’s resolution was very important as Xcel Energy — through a third-party environmentalist group — essentially rushed the town to adopt the new code by threatening to revoke the rebate it hopes to offer fire victims to meet the new code.

Town trustees, who had repeated since January that they would not make rebuilding harder on the victims, pleaded with an Xcel representative at a Feb. 14 meeting to meet the town in the middle and offer the rebate to homeowners who were to “opt in” to the code the rebate, which Senior Buildings Policy Manager Christine Brinker from the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP), claimed would more than cover the incremental costs of the new codes.

“There is no incentive,” said Robert Buchanan, one of two Xcel representatives at that Feb. 14 meeting if the town did not adopt the code. “The incentive is intended to meet the base code.”

The urgency to adopt the code was spearheaded by SWEEP, a progressive, Boulder-based group led by former Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones and focused on eliminating the use of natural gas as an energy source. Brinker’s organization estimated the incremental costs of meeting the new code would be just under $6,000, while others have estimated it at tens-of-thousands more than that.

“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,” said one resident who told the board he lost three properties in the fire, and contractors he’d spoke to said it’s likely to cost between $350 to $400 a square foot to rebuild under the new codes.

The Homebuilders Association of Metro Denver, as reported by the Associated Press, has said it will cost at least $77,000 more to build a 2,200 square foot home under the new code, which if accurate makes the as of yet unapproved Xcel rebate woefully inadequate.

No guarantees

Superior trustees postponed their decision again on the 14th saying they could not come to a decision because the Xcel offer was not guaranteed, as at that time, the offer needed approval from both the utility itself and the Public Utilities Commission.

“The only reason we brought it back is because Xcel said ‘We think we have some incentives,’ said Trustee Neal Shah. “They still (only) think they have some incentives. We have not gotten a straight answer from them on anything tonight, just conjectures and more uncertainty. The last thing these homeowners need right now is any more uncertainty.”

Then, at the 28th meeting Brinker told the board that she had spoken with officials from Xcel, and they promised they had streamlined the decision on their end and were now confident they would have the $7,500. However, the official decision does not lie with Xcel.

The rebate will be paid for by all ratepayers through a rate increase, which must be approved by the Public Utilities Commission, a process that could take more than nine months, Buchanan said at the Feb. 14 meeting.

Perhaps more unusual was that Brinker helped the town’s legal department craft the language during the Feb. 28 meeting.

“What Xcel has said is if the 2021 (IECC) is your default code for all buildings then every building will get the base incentive of $7,500,” Brinker said. “You can still offer an opt out, but it has to be clear that your default code has to be the 2021 with an opt out rather than saying our code is the 2021 for new-builds but 2018 for rebuilds. So essentially, it’s in how you word it.”

There was no Xcel agent present for the 28th meeting, only Brinker saying she had spoken to someone from the utility.

Although the board did adopt the code, Shah was not convinced it was the right move.

“As you look across the Denver metro area, as you look across the state, very few municipalities have moved into 2021 already,” Shah said. “So, I want us to take a step back. What is the impetus here? I mean I get it we have a lot of building happening. I fundamentally get it, and I was completely on board in December.  I was kind of on board a week or two ago, but what I keep coming back to as we are creating more complexity for staff, and I have not heard conclusively that we have truly sorted this out on how to keep it moving smoothly.”


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