One of the more encouraging developments in the realm of green retrofits is the emergence of municipal programs designed to help homeowners cover the costs of audits and energy efficiency improvements.
This spring, we saw Boulder County, Colorado, launch a loan program, called ClimateSmart, that is designed to provide low-cost financing for renewable-energy improvements. Similar programs also have been offered in the California cities of San Diego, San Francisco, and Palm Desert, and in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
As noted in a story published Wednesday by the Wall Street Journal, many states have adopted laws that allow municipal financing for energy efficiency improvements, and the federal stimulus bill removed a restriction that prevented homeowners who participated in local financing programs from receiving full federal tax credits for energy-related work. State tax credits also apply, which means a homeowner taking advantage of all tax credit programs now can reduce the final cost of, say, a solar installation by almost half.
Greening a town on the Atlantic
One municipal financing initiative that has been gaining ground is Long Island Green Homes, a program offered by Babylon, New York, in Long Island’s Suffolk County. Participation in the program, which launched in October, is fairly straightforward: prospective participants are asked to fill out a “Self-Check Home Inventory Form,” which details energy-usage data, to determine whether their home qualifies for an energy audit. Audits and subsequent, program-authorized improvements are made by contractors certified by the Building Performance Institute.
The cost of the retrofits, up to $12,000, are covered by loans made by the city, which homeowners pay off with most of the savings they’ll see on their utility bills. Loan contracts can be for 10 years or more.
An audit program with similar goals, LI Green, began operating in Suffolk County and other parts of Long Island in 2008. LI Green has partnered with Stony Brook University, also based on Long Island, and Suffolk County Government and Bethpage Federal Credit Union to provide home energy audits, help homeowners who receive them contact a contractor (certified by BPI), and provide them with details about securing below-market financing. LI Green technicians also can offer guidance to homeowners who want to do the work themselves.
So Long Island is becoming a hotbed of green retrofits. Who knew? Long Island Green Homes’ program director, Sammy Chu, told the Journal that 50 homeowners a month are calling the town to ask for audits, up from 10 to 12 when the program started. Most of those audits lead to work contracts, Chu said, noting that previously only 20% of audits would lead to actual work.