No place like home for energy savings

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Courtesy of Energy Efficiency Markets LLC

Apparently there is no place like home, even when it comes to fulfilling lofty wishes like fixing our energy supply. A recent White House task force on the middle class finds that our homes generate more than 20% of the nation's carbon dioxide emissions. If we make our houses more efficient, we can significantly cut emissions and reduce energy use by 40%, a move that could lower our bills by $21 billion annually. But who has the extra cash in this economy for better windows and an updated heating system?

The report recommends leveraging some of the $80 billion in energy and environment stimulus funds to set up financing mechanisms that let homeowners pay over time and avoid the upfront hit.

Already, to that end, several states have created low-interest revolving loan funds. Nebraska has set aside $11 million. Florida is offering $10 million, particularly for solar hot water installations. And yes, Dorothy, you can go home again. Kansas has gotten into the act with $34 million in efficiency loans.

In addition, the task force encourages federally funded pilot programs using ‘Property Assessed Clean Energy’ financing. Now available in a handful of cities, these programs finance clean energy efforts on property tax bills. Ideally, the efficiency retrofits will reduce energy bills at least as much as property payments rise, so that the homeowner faces no net increase in expenses. Particularly interesting, the loan stays with the property – not the owner. So if the homeowner decides to sell, the new owner, who reaps the benefits of the efficient home, also pays any remaining costs of the retrofit.

Similarly, the report calls for making energy efficiency mortgages more available. The US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development needs to work with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to establish uniform procedures for such mortgage products, the report says. In addition, the home appraisal industry must develop methods to evaluate a home’s energy efficiency.

And finally, the report says the housing industry deserves the same opportunity given to the appliance industry with Energy Star labels. Americans saved $19 billion on their utility bills last year with Energy Star appliances, according to the report. A similar label for homes would help buyers in their shopping and provide a benchmark for auditors, retrofitters, lenders and realtors.

To realize these recommendations, the report calls for creation of an interagency ‘Energy Retrofit Working Group,’ chaired by the Department of Energy, HUD, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Labor, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Is the White House doing more than tapping its shoes together to bring the initiative home? Monitor these two sites for progress: http://www.whitehouse.gov/strongmiddleclass/blog
http://www.whitehouse.gov/strongmiddleclass

Visit Elisa Wood at http://www.realenergywriters.com/ and pick up her free Energy Efficiency Markets podcast and newsletter.

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