Even though the federally expanded Weatherization Assistance Program has struggled to gain its bureaucratic footing, the logic behind the program and others designed to encourage further energy efficiency retrofits is, in the current economic climate, too compelling for the Obama administration to ignore.
President Obama’s pitch in Savannah, Georgia, this week for the “Homestar” home-retrofit-and-rebate legislative proposal, whose essentials the White House unveiled last November, played directly to populist hunger for programs that create jobs and to the notion that eco-friendly, energy-saving home improvements that are done correctly can save homeowners money.
Making upgrades rebate-ready
Speaking to an audience at the Savannah Technical College, where students are trained in energy efficient construction, the president cited a few Homestar details (which also are outlined on the White House press office website) aimed at making it easier for homeowners to manage the upfront costs of retrofit projects.
Purchases of certain materials and services from participating vendors, installers, and utility programs, for example, will be eligible for point-of-sale rebates. Under what Homestar proponents call “Silver Star” improvements, consumers would be eligible for 50% rebates, up to $1,500, on simple upgrades such as duct sealing, installation of insulation, energy efficient water heaters, HVAC systems, windows and/or doors. Certain combinations of upgrades could boost the Silver Star rebate to as much as $3,000.
Another retrofit category, called Gold Star, offers a $3,000 rebate for a whole-home audit and upgrade that reduces the home’s energy costs by 20% or more.
A stimulus-funded precedent
The program would focus on products made in the U.S. and installed by certified contractors, and would include support for state- and locally sponsored financing plans. And while WAP is aimed at low-income households, Homestar rebates would be available to consumers in all income brackets.
Obama is presenting the proposal as a nonpartisan, “common-sense approach” to the nation’s high unemployment rate and the need to decrease energy use, although his political opponents said they are skeptical the plan will deliver as promised. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, Republican of Virginia, cited unmet expectations for the $5 billion Weatherization Assistance Program as evidence that a stimulus plan like Homestar would disappoint. That assessment, however, is premature, since WAP has only now begun ramping up to peak operation. A fair assessment of the current incarnation of the WAP is several months away.
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