DOE funds loans for weatherization and new training opportunities

Programs for energy auditors and installation technicians, which start this fall

By Ramona du Houx

August 27th, 2010 

altThe State’s Home Energy Savings Program offered cash rebates up to $4,000 on weatherization retrofitting last summer. Add federal tax incentives of up to $1,500, and anyone could save $5,500 to weatherize their home.

“Preapproved weatherization projects that reduce fuel usage for heat and hot water by 25 percent are eligible for up to $1,500 in rebates, while those that achieve energy savings of 50 percent or more are eligible for up to $3,000,” said Michael Stoddard [right] executive director of Efficiency Maine Trust, during an energy event attended by federal and State officials, including Governor John Baldacci.

That’s when Stoddard announced the summer special of an addition of $1,000 cashback. The response has been overwhelming.

Contractors are booked. Some are finding it hard to meet the demand. Before the $1,000 bonus started on June 1, the Efficiency Maine Trust tallied 53 energy audits a month. The number jumped five times after the bonus was added to the $3,000 cash incentive that took effect last January. Over 1,000 people have taken advantage of the offer.

To be eligible homeowners must have an energy audit performed by a certified auditor. Eligible improvements include: insulation and air sealing, energy-efficient replacement windows, high-efficiency heating and hot-water equipment, including solar water heaters, programmable thermostats, and water-saving devices. When the project is done, the homeowner mails in a form to receive the cash rebate check.

Recovery Act funds used in this offer gave momentum to the state’s goal to weatherize all homes and half of Maine businesses by 2030. The State’s goal remains, so the Efficiency Maine Trust encourages more people to retrofit. Although the extra $1,000 bonus ends, the program should continue. And there are other programs like PACE available.

Last spring the DOE approved another $30 million to jumpstart the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, which helps property owners pay for energy improvements by loans that are paid back incrementally through their property taxes. The idea is for homeowners, who want to improve their homes with weatherization but can’t afford an outright loan from the bank, to take out a PACE loan that is paid back when they pay their property taxes, over a long period of time. Because of the savings they make through weatherization, the homeowner spends the same amount on heating and property taxes combined. Over time, after the loan is repaid, the homeowner continues to benefit from the energy savings.

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Governor Baldacci speaks at an energy conference with officials of DOE in attendance. photo by Ramona du Houx
“Maine is one of the smallest states in population, but one of the biggest states in terms of leadership. Maine plays a major role in this national issue. This is my fourth visit to the state, and that’s because I keep coming back to recognize another great program started here,” said Gil Sperling from the U.S. Department of Energy, at the energy event during the summer. “We decided to challenge states to come up with programs that would progress retrofitting nationwide. Maine had a top-quality application. The state is a pilot and a real model for others to follow.”

The governor said that MaineHousing’s long experience with the department’s Weatherization Assistance Program and the partnerships it has established with the State’s Community Action Agencies were key factors in ramping up the State’s weatherization efforts, along with training already in place.

“Maine has one of the oldest housing stocks in the nation, 86 percent of our homes are heated with oil. Dependence on unstable foreign energy is dangerous for our economy, environment, and national security,” said Governor Baldacci. “There’s a better way. The hard-earned money that flows out of our state to oil companies could stay here at home in our economy. People could be saving money from retrofitting and enhance their quality of life.”

The number of firms offering weatherization and retrofitting services is growing.

The State will expand training and certification programs for auditors and installation technicians with an award of $880,000 by the DOE to create three weatherization training centers in Maine. The centers will be located at KVCC, Southern Maine Community College, and Washington County Community College. The programs start this fall.

Dale McCormick, director of the Maine State Housing Authority, said, “The average cost in Maine for an energy audit and weatherization work is about $8,000. Follow-up audits estimate that the work is cutting energy use in homes by 38 percent.”

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Michael Stoddard, director of Efficiency Maine Trust. photo by Ramona du Houx
The average Maine household now spends $2,400 a year on heating costs. The average oil-heated home burns 800 gallons a year.

“All of these resources made available through the federal government are spurring us on to do even more work, because we have an administration that is supporting our initiatives,” said the governor. “Now we will get the funds out to the businesses and workers and begin more training, so we can lift our economy. And with offshore wind opportunities, we will build our green-energy manufacturing base.”

“We have hundreds of thousands of homes in Maine that need to be weatherized. We will be doing this work for some time,” said Stoddard.

Programs at Energy Efficiency Maine and MaineHousing are available for all income levels.

A full list of eligible improvements and eligibility requirements are found on Efficiency Maine’s web site, http://www.efficiencymaine.com/mainehomeperformance.htm.