Money, money, money!

Spring is here, and Ms. Green’s green thumbs are itching! The right one itches because it’s time to garden, and the left one is itching because it’s the perfect time to think about saving money by saving energy. Have you seen that billboard on 15-501 heading north to Chapel Hill? The one with the sand pail and beach ball that reminds you to be more energy efficient so you can spend money on your vacation? It’s easy to miss, Ms. Green knows, and isn’t as to-the-point as Ms. Green would like. In fact, Ms. Green would rather a billboard that was super obvious, like: Hey Dummy! Your house is leaking energy, which equals wasted money!, but that probably demonstrates why the Energy Council hasn’t hired Ms. Green to write their marketing slogans.

In any case, despite the fact that Ms. Green doesn’t find the billboard particularly effective, it makes a legitimate point: saving money on energy costs frees that money so you can do other things with it. Like go to the beach. Or, as in Ms. Green’s case, pay for both your children’s orthodontics at the same time.

Sigh.

But back to the original point: saving money.

If you regularly read this column Ms. Green suggests you skip the next three paragraphs as they rehash existing programs, tax credits, rebates, and the like. The fourth paragraph has to do with current events, however, and may be news to even you, kind, regular, interested, energy-efficient readers. Current POLITICAL events. Interested yet? Current BIPARTISAN POLITICAL events, even!  I know – does that sort of thing even exist in an election year? Ms. Green is here to tell you YES, it does. So skip. Unless you don’t know about all the goodies currently available to you for energy efficiency. In which case, don’t skip.

Here’s the rehash: even though the federal tax credits that were so generous for energy efficiency in years past have pretty much gone away, there are still credits for solar energy and geothermal, and you should always check with your utility to see if they have an energy efficiency program. Progress Energy’s H.E.I.P. program has undergone some changes, but if you’re a PE customer it’s still the best utility program there is for home energy efficiency measures. They will pay decent rebates to pre-qualified contractors for things like duct sealing, insulation, and air sealing that will considerably shorten the payback time for these measures.

The state of NC has reopened its energy efficiency appliance rebate program, where you can replace your old appliances with Energy Star models, but it’s a little different this time around: rebate checks aren’t available yet, but you can reserve your rebate it you’ve purchased a qualified appliance any time after January  1. The money will come as the money becomes available, apparently.

And of course, if you live in Chapel Hill or Carrboro and you don’t know about the WISE Buildings program, which gives very nice subsidies for energy audits and subsequent weatherization, you have either been asleep or you aren’t a regular reader of Ms. Green’s column, both of which are forgivable offenses, but also means you need to get on the Internet and look it up, toot sweet.  The WISE Buildings program has recently added a subsidy to weatherize multi-family buildings, meaning townhomes and condos and the like, so if you live in a home that’s attached to other homes and thought you were excluded up until now, think again.

Finally, here’s the current political news about energy efficiency that you have been dying to know. If it happens, it will change this country. It will certainly change Ms. Green’s family business. And it will make things better for the children. Save the earth, even. Add jobs! Restore the economy! (Well, one can hope…) And Republicans and Democrats from the House and Senate are making it happen! Drumroll please!

I’m talking about the Cut Energy Bills at Home Act, introduced in the U.S. Senate by Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Jeff Bingaman, AND the HOMES (Home Owners Managing Energy) Act, just introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by David McKinley (R- W. Va.) and Peter Welch (D-Vermont).

These are both amazing, amazing pieces of legislation for the home energy efficiency industry.

The Cut Energy Bills at Home Act bill would create a new 25e tax credit — the first residential performance-based tax credit given to homeowners who make energy efficiency improvements. The proposed bill would provide performance-based tax credits of up to $5,000 per project for homeowners who install qualified energy efficiency measures.

The Home Owner Managing Energy Savings (HOMES) Act will provide rebates to homeowners who invest in energy efficiency improvements. Homeowners who demonstrate a 20 percent energy savings will receive a $2,000 rebate. For every 5 percent in additional energy savings, they can receive another $1,000 – up to a total of $8,000 or 50 percent of the project’s cost. This program is based on an existing program in Vermont, which has demonstrated its effectiveness and efficiency.

The Republican backers of both these programs focus on the jobs that will be created if they come to pass. Ms. Green loves the idea of job creation! The Democrats are interested in saving the environment. Ms. Green loves saving the environment. Both parties are interested in homeowners saving money through increased energy efficiency, and you know Ms. Green loves that!

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