Friday, November 12, 2010

The President's New Score Card

No, this is not a score card for the economy or taxes or job growth.  This is the new Home Energy Score Program announced by Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday at a Middle Class Task Force event.  The new program will be test piloted in 10 communities nationwide. 

The Score Program will allow homeowners to voluntarily register their homes for energy audits.  The audits will be performed by trained, certified contractors using new energy software tools to assign each property a home energy score, to estimate of how much money the homeowner could save through "energy retrofits" and to create a personalized set of recommended improvements complete with the annual savings and estimated payback period. The limited review audits under the Home Energy Score pilot program are expected to cost participating homeowners $400 to $500, which is roughly a $200.00 savings over the cost of a full audit. 

Allegheny County, Pennsylvania is one of the 10 test pilot communities selected by the federal government.  At least 12 local homes from each community are expected to be selected for participation.  Homeowners in the Allegheny area can register their homes by signing up at EfficiencyPa. com.  Selected homes will be rated from 1 to 10, with 10 being awarded to a home with excellent energy efficiency and 1 being awarded to a home needing major upgrades.

Contractors who perform the audits must be certified and registered through the Department of Energy.  The Department of Energy and the Department of Labor are working with the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency to identify the skills and qualifications required for a contractor to become certified in the "home energy retrofit" industry.  The Small Business Administration is also on board with a new on-line course, Green Business Opportunities: a Small Business Guide, to help small business owners who want to enter the home energy retrofit market.

To finance the cost of the improvement's, HUD is offering the new FHA PowerSaver loans.  The PowerSaver program provides federally insured loans of up $25,000 to homeowners who make the recommended improvements after their energy audit.  With loan terms of up to 20 years, the PowerSaver program makes improvements including new windows and doors, new heating and cooling, water heaters, insulation, solar panels, duct sealing and geothermal systems attainable for homeowners who qualify for the financing.

Certainly, making a home more energy efficient and helping the homeowner save money on heating and cooling bills is a good goal.  Efficiency PA's program manager John Horchner, who is heading up the pilot program for Allegheny County, estimates that a home with a score card of 10 could save the homeowner $2000 to $3000 compared to a house with a 5 rating.  My primary concern is that while initial participation the program is voluntary, over time participation may become mandatory.  One of the goals of Chris Dodd's Livable Communities Act is to assess private homes for energy efficiency and to require that the homeowners bring their homes up to government-mandated energy efficient standards.  Homeowners who voluntarily want to take the initiative to retrofit their homes with energy efficient features should certainly be encouraged to do so, but no homeowner should be forced by an agency to make their private home energy efficient.  The danger of a potentially far reaching initiative such as the Score Program is that once the system is in place and the auditors are trained and certified in each community, homeowners may be told that they now are required to pay for the audits and to pay the costs of the upgrades whether they desire to do so or not.  That is too much government regulation for me.


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