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Dec 152010

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Looking to improve your energy efficiency at home with insulation or a new furnace? You’ll have to scramble to take advantage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or stimulus money, rebates that are expiring on December 31, 2010.

But many rebates, tax credits and other incentives will continue through 2011 and beyond for homeowners or commercial building owners who want to go solar, upgrade energy systems or weatherize buildings. On the federal level, homeowners will still be able to get a tax credit for solar, geothermal and small wind installations.

Austin Energy offers a long list of rebates and other assistance to homeowners wanting to green up.

A variety of state incentives will continue, as well as city and utility programs. To see a listing of what’s available by states, see the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE).

In the Austin area, residents are blessed with strong continuing incentives from Austin Energy, which has won EPA awards for helping customers reduce. Here are some of the key programs.

The Home Performance with ENERGY STAR Rebate

This program by Austin Energy helps homeowners reduce their electric bills and make their homes more comfortable. It will cover 20 percent of the cost of qualifying improvements – up to $1575. Here’s what qualifies:

  • An air conditioner or heat pump rates at 14 SEER or 12.0 EER or up
  • Duct repair and sealing
  • Attic insulation
  • Solar screens, window film and Low-E glass
  • Caulking and weather stripping
  • Attic radiant barrier or reflective material.

The Home Performance with Energy Star Loans

Austin Energy also offers an identical program that offers loans for these same sorts of energy improvements. The loans are interest-free for three to five years, or offered at a low rate (last year it was 3.5 percent) for five to seven years.

Single family homes as well as duplexes and rental properties are eligible for the loan program.

The power company doesn’t leave residential customers lost in a yellow page wilderness either, but helps assure that they get qualified assistance for any of these big home improvement jobs by referring customers to a list of participating companies who can provide the equipment and labor, and have a proven track record of reliable service.

Reaching for the Sun

Austin Energy loans also are available for residential customers wanting to install photovoltaic rooftop solar systems. Austin Energy customers can finance up through $20,000 with low closing costs and low interest rates through the Velocity Credit Union.

Central Texas is not only a smart place for solar power weather-wise; it’s an attractive market for this new energy source, with many qualified providers. Austin Energy sends its customers to a list of 20  companies that have been approved as photovoltaic providers.  A separate list puts clients in touch with firms that can install solar thermal water heaters.

Homeowners considering solar installations also will be able to take advantage of federal rebates that are set to last through 2016. This program provides for a tax credit for 30 percent of the cost of a solar energy system, small wind turbine or geothermal heat pump. Principal and second residences can qualify. For details, see the Energy Star web page: Federal Tax Credits for Consumer Energy Efficiency.

Other Assistance

If you’re feeling that the house is a little drafty, or heats up too much in summer, but you’re not sure which changes would be most effective, Austin Energy tries to help with a free online energy analysis that can guide a homeowner as they assess their energy consumption and efficiency needs.

The company’s list of energy professionals also includes several listings of contractors qualified to perform home energy audits or performance testing. These professionals can perform tests in the attic, on duct work and throughout the whole house, to find where best to batten down.

Low income customers and those with disabilities qualify for an array of assistance from Austin Energy, from attic insulation and solar screens to weather stripping and duct repair, provided they meet guidelines.

Austin: A good place for solar energy, wind and geothermal.

Free programmable thermostats also are available, with an agreement to allow Austin Energy to cycle the air conditioning off for a few hours during peak demand in the summer.

Got bigger energy issues? Austin Energy provides a range of rebates and incentives for commercial building owners, small businesses, multi-family apartments and commercial kitchens – which all have their unique energy challenges. 

Reducing energy consumption is a mutually beneficial endeavor, says Carlos Cordova, company spokesman, because lower consumption on the consumer side lightens the demand load for the energy company.

“When we don’t have to provide more energy it helps us in many ways, to meet demands…and it lowers our carbon footprint,” Cordova said.

Texas Energy Efficiency Deals: Appliance Rebates and Solar Incentives

The Austin-specific programs can be sweetened with federal and state tax incentives for renewables or energy efficiency upgrades.

In Texas, almost anyone could benefit from rebates for buying energy efficient appliances under the state’s Appliance Rebate program, which is relaunching for a second round on Monday, Dec. 20. This time the program is streamlined; instead of having to obtain vouchers ahead of time, consumers can buy eligible products, which include Energy Star washers, water heaters, dishwashers, refrigerators, central air and heat pump systems. Customers mail in for a rebate after the purchase.

Texas offers other incentives for homeowners making energy improvements. Two worth noting are:

  • A property tax break for solar — If your property value rises because you’ve installed a solar roof, that portion of your home’s assessed value can be exempted from property taxes.
  • PACE funding for solar or other big energy improvements that require long term financing. Texas is among the states that have passed enabling legislation that allows local entities to finance these homeowner projects via tax assessment loans. PACE funding has been slowed nationally because of concerns by federal mortgage holders, however, so it may not be available until that issue is resolved in the courts. See Property Tax Financing at the TexasPowerfulSmart.org website.

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