Incentive, Rebate Programs Feed Green Growth

No one ever said selling green would be easy. Many times designers and dealers are either preaching to the converted or talking to a brick wall. But, there is one thing that always gets a customer’s attention – that other kind of green: money.

Everyone likes a little extra money back come tax time, so a good place to begin talking about sustainable remodeling is by counting the greenbacks clients can save by employing energy-efficient appliances, water-saving fixtures and other elements to make their overall home a little less impactful on the environment. And, why not? If manufacturers are eligible for tax credits from the government for designing and building products like energy- and water-efficient clothes dryers (and they are), shouldn’t clients get a break for buying them?

While the following is only a cursory listing of major federal programs and income tax credits, more information is widely available from the U.S. Department of Energy (www.energy.gov) and is compiled in other independent online databases such as North Carolina State University’s Database for State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (www.dsireusa.org) and green-focused building online sites such as Green Made Simple (www.greenmadesimple.com).

Cash for Caulkers – Passed in early May, Congress has allocated $6 billion for this plan. Officially known as the Homestar Energy Retrofit Act of 2010 (or H.R. 5019), the program offers two rebate program levels: silver, for light upgrades, would give homeowners the potential for 50% back on their investment; and gold, for more comprehensive energy upgrades would require a whole-home energy audit and subsequent changes must amount to a 20% total energy savings. Gold Star rebates would build on existing whole-home retrofit programs such as EPA’s successful Home Performance with Energy Star program.

Energy Star – The program, administered jointly by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, says on its federal tax credit site: “ENERGY STAR distinguishes energy-efficient products which, although they may cost more to purchase than standard models, will pay back in lower energy bills within a reasonable amount of time, without a tax credit.” The tax credit is 30% of cost up to $1,500; purchases must be made prior to December 31, 2010. The credit covers biomass stoves, HVAC, insulation, roofs, non-solar water heaters, windows and doors. Not all Energy Star-rated products are qualified, so be sure to visit www.energystar.gov to see if the product is covered.

Energy Efficient Mortgages (EEM) – Homeowners, and potential homeowners, can take advantage of energy-efficient mortgages (EEM) to finance a variety of energy-efficiency measures, including renewable energy technologies, in a new or existing home. The U.S. federal government supports these loans by insuring them through Federal Housing Authority (FHA) or Veterans Affairs (VA) programs. For more information, visit www.fha.com, www.hud.gov or, if a client is a veteran, www.homeloans.va.gov. Passive solar space heat, solar water heat, solar space heat, photovoltaics and daylighting are among the eligible energy-efficient technologies/retrofits covered.

Residential Energy Efficiency Tax Credit – This is a personal exemption that was put into effect in 2006 and extended through this year that directly relates to the Energy Star program. The aggregate amount of credit for all technologies placed in service in 2009 and 2010 combined is limited to $1,500. For more information visit www.energystar.gov/taxcredits or www.irs.gov.

Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit – On the books since 2005, this tax credit runs through 2016 and covers solar systems, photovoltaics, wind power, geothermal and fuel cell updates and covers 30% of total cost, with different limits for various systems. An unusual characteristic of this credit is that excess credit may be carried forward to the succeeding tax year, therefore not discouraging homeowners from making their changes all at once during a remodel. For information about equipment requirements and incentive limits, visit www.energystar.gov/taxcredits or www.irs.gov.

States, Utilities Augment Federally Sponsored Rebate/Tax Credit Programs

States and utilities have joined the push for greater efficiency, including:

  • Delaware, which announced in late June that it had awarded its 10,000th appliance rebate. That program runs through August 31, 2010. Through the Appliance Rebate Program, residents can download and submit rebate forms to receive up to $200 back on clothes washers, water heaters, room air conditioners and dishwashers. More information can be found at www.energizedelaware.com.
  • California’s major energy provider, Pacific Gas & Electric, is offering cash incentives to residents seeking to incorporate photovoltaics as part of the California Solar Initiative program. The company provides a free home energy audit prior to installation. Additionally, the utility company offers cash rebates to customers who recycle their old refrigerator, freezer or room air conditioner through JACO Environmental, the utility's recycling partner. More information can be found at www.pge.com.
  • EmPower New York is a New York State program that provides no-cost electricity reduction measures (including refrigerators, freezers, air sealing and insulation) to income-qualified customers of a number of regional utility providers. Additional information can be found at http://www.nyserda.ny.gov.
  • The Tennessee Valley Authority is offering free Energy Conservation Kits to its customers in Tennessee in an ongoing effort aimed at raising awareness of energy efficiency. TVA offers this free kit to any residential customer who completes a mail-in or online home-energy audit through the utility. The kit includes two CFLs (compact fluorescent light bulbs), two faucet aerators, a home thermometer and more. For more information, visit www.energyright.com.
  • TexasIsHot.org is a Texas state-run Web site that is a clearinghouse of information on current statewide rebates and tax credits available. The site also indexes information on federal and individual municipal incentives.
  • Puget Sound Energy is offering a rebate to customers in Washington who upgrade their home's single-pane windows to double-pane. Eligible windows must have a U-factor of .33 or better. The rebate is worth up to $500. Fore more information, visit www.pse.com.
  • Alliant Energy/Interstate Power & Light is offering low-interest financing to customers in Iowa who wish to make energy-efficiency improvements to their homes, including HVAC updates, appliances and more. Visit www.alliantenergy.com

For information about rebates in a clients’ area, contact their utility provider and visit www.energy.gov.

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