Monday, October 19, 2009

White House pushes for weatherization of homes

As we read it today in the Charlotte Obserber:

WASHINGTON The White House will release a plan today that is intended to remove some of the obstacles that prevent middle-class Americans from getting energy audits and making their homes more energy-efficient.
America's nearly 130 million homes generate about 20 percent of the nation's emissions of carbon dioxide, the principal heat-trapping gas, says a report being released today by the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Vice President Joe Biden's Middle Class Task Force. McClatchy obtained an early copy.
The plan would add jobs that couldn't be outsourced and would make it easier for families to save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Biden said.
Installing more insulation and more energy efficient doors, windows, lighting, water heaters, air conditioning and appliances can reduce energy use in a house by 40 percent, adding up to significant savings on utility bills.
The White House estimates weatherization also could lower greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 160 million metric tons annually by 2020.
But one of the biggest hurdles to greater energy efficiency is cost. Energy efficiency retrofits can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on how much work is needed. The new recommendations use existing federal funding and include ways to finance projects so homeowners will be more likely to undertake them.
The new program is intended to expand a national energy retrofit market beyond the $5billion weatherization program for low-income households in this year's economic stimulus package. A family of four that earns less than $44,100 a year, or $55,140 in Alaska and $50,720 in Hawaii, can qualify for the low-income program.
The report suggests three ways to make financing for efficiency improvements more attractive:
Add the cost of retrofits to a homeowner's property tax bill. If a house is sold, the buyer continues to pay for the improvements through the tax bill. The costs would be spread out over enough time so that the monthly payments generally would be lower than the savings on utility bills.
Make energy efficiency expenses part of the mortgage when a house is bought or refinanced. That program is already available, but the report said there have been "significant barriers" to widespread use. It suggests ways to overcome those barriers, such as making it easier to rate a house's energy performance.
Expand state revolving loan funds, which help consumers borrow money for weatherization at lower interest rates.
The report also recommends improving information about weatherization - for example, a label for houses with efficiency upgrades that's similar to the Energy Star label for new houses. The plan calls for national certification and training standards for workers making the improvements.
A new $454 million program from the Department of Energy will look for ways to retrofit residential and commercial buildings in entire neighborhoods or communities to take advantage of economies of scale that would lower individual costs.

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