March 8th, 2011 8:29 AM by Lehel S.
A new statewide program launching Tuesday will give homeowners rebates worth up to $4,000 if they make significant energy-efficient improvements to their houses.
The $300 million program, called "Energy Upgrade California," was developed by the California Energy Commission, local governments, utilities, the California Public Utilities Commission and contractors who specialize in home energy audits, upgrades and retrofits. The goal of the program, which has been in the works for over a year, is threefold: reduce household energy use, save consumers money on utility bills and create jobs in the state's "building performance" industry. Funding for the program comes from several sources, including federal stimulus dollars and surcharges that consumers already pay on their utility bills.
Consumers who want to make their homes more energy efficient -- whether by adding insulation to the attic or purchasing a new hot water heater -- are often at a loss as to where to begin, or what project to tackle first. It's hard to keep up with an ever-changing menu of federal tax credits. And rebates often vary based on who your utility company is.
Energy Upgrade California hopes to streamline the process, so there's one-stop shopping for consumers from San Jose to San Diego.
"The whole goal is to reduce consumer confusion," said Panama Bartholomy, deputy director for efficiency and renewable energy for the California Energy Commission. "Instead of figuring
There are about 13 million homes in California, and many of them -- about 9 million -- were built before the state's energy-efficient building codes were adopted in the 1970s. Older as well as some newer homes typically have single-paned windows, outdated heating and cooling systems or inadequate insulation. Other houses may suffer from mold, poor indoor air quality or uneven heating and cooling. After transportation, buildings account for the biggest chunk of California's greenhouse gas emissions.
"Do we invest in building more power plants, or do we try to reduce the demand?" said Bartholomy. "It's far more cost-effective for us as a state to invest in energy efficiency."
Homeowners are still expected to pay for the upfront cost of any upgrades, which can cost about $10,000, and not every homeowner will want to spend that kind of money. But pilot studies showed that rebates were a driving factor for many homeowners, and the upfront costs will be offset, in part, by the rebates and federal tax credits that are part of this program, as well as lower monthly utility bills.
Homeowners who pursue a "basic" energy efficient upgrade will get a rebate of $1,000. Property owners who choose an advanced package qualify for rebates from $1,250 to $4,000. The rebates depend on the energy savings achieved and the utility provider. Homeowners must work with contractors approved by Energy Upgrade California to qualify for rebates; the website www.EnergyUpgradeCA.org includes a list of all qualified contractors.
Contractors who are participating in the state program are thrilled that there's now a coordinated effort to market the concept of energy efficiency. Many contractors are small, family-owned businesses who have struggled amid the recession.
"Everyone knows what a new kitchen is, but no one knows what a home energy assessment is," said Caroline Hawkins of Allterra Environmental, a seven-person company in Santa Cruz. "We've worked on gorgeous 5,000-square-foot homes where the bedroom is freezing."
Hawkins hopes that Energy Upgrade California will drive more customers to Allterra.
"We're thrilled that someone else is doing the marketing for us," Hawkins said. "The rebates really get people perked up."
Contact Dana Hull at 408-920-2706. Follow her at Twitter.com/danahull.