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Lane Burt’s Blog

Obama Administration Beats the Drum for Efficiency Retrofits

Lane Burt

Posted October 19, 2009

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The White House released the "Recovery through Retrofit" report today, which reaches familiar conclusions - retrofitting homes and developing a residential energy efficiency industry can save money, slash carbon emissions, and create jobs right now. The report also had specific policy recommendations that won't be new to any reader of this blog. They fit perfectly with the policies that NRDC has worked hard to get into both the House and Senate Climate and energy bills and this report only strengthens the case for making sure those provisions become law.

The recommendations are,

Develop Energy Performance Label for Homes
We propose to do for homes what ENERGY STAR® has done for appliances, helping consumers identify energy efficient products. New homes can already earn the ENERGY STAR® label - but no such label is available for existing homes. The Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency are working together to develop an energy performance label for these homes. The end result will be an easily recognizable benchmark that energy auditors, retrofitters, lenders, realtors, and consumers can use to compare home energy performance and identify the most energy efficient homes.

Develop a National Home Energy Performance Measure
Before we can develop an energy performance label for existing homes, we must establish a standardized home energy performance measure applicable to every home in America. This measure will make it much easier for consumers to understand how much they can save by retrofitting their home. It will also give lenders the information they need to work with homeowners who are looking to invest in home energy improvements.

Indeed, developing a robust building energy label could be a very powerful policy. And key words, "applicable to every home in America". Don't let a special interest group like the National Association of Realtors try to convince you that we should pretend that all homes are equally efficient. We will continue to work with the agencies and Congress to make sure a building energy label becomes a reality.

Support Municipal Energy Financing
Property tax or municipal energy financing allows the costs of retrofits to be added to a homeowner's property tax bill, with monthly payments generally lower than utility bill savings. This arrangement attaches the costs of the energy retrofit to the property, not the individual, eliminating uncertainty about recovering the cost of the improvements if the property is sold. Federal Departments and Agencies will work in partnership with state and local governments to establish standardized underwriting criteria and safeguards to protect consumers and minimize financial risks to the homeowners and mortgage lenders. The Department of Energy will support model financing programs to provide much needed upfront capital utilizing Recovery Act funding provided for the Department's Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grant and State Energy Programs.

Improve Energy Efficient Mortgages
Expanding the use of Energy Efficient Mortgages will simplify the process of obtaining and financing energy retrofits at a home's point of sale. This effort will also work to lower the cost of home energy audits as well as the monthly financing payments, and ensure that retrofits are accurately valued in the appraisal process. Federal Departments and Agencies will work collaboratively to: advance a standard home energy performance measure and more uniform underwriting procedures; develop procedures for more accurate home energy appraisals; and streamline the energy audit process.

Expand State Revolving Loan Funds
Expanding state revolving loan funds from 16 states to all 50 states will leverage private capital and achieve economies of scale necessary to produce consistent and affordable loan products. This will allow consumers to borrow money for home energy retrofits from private firms at lower interest rates. In addition to funding new programs through the Recovery Act, the Federal Government will work to provide examples of successful revolving loan programs and technical assistance to states without revolving loan programs in order to encourage their adoption.

Removing the financing barrier would indeed help encourage more retrofits. When you improve the value of your home by investing in energy efficiency and reduce future operating costs, why shouldn't you be able to finance it easily? The lenders should encourage the investments in homes that also make them cheaper to operate and less likely to default on a mortgage.

Establish National Workforce Certifications and Training Standards
A uniform set of national standards to qualify energy efficiency and retrofit workers and industry training providers will establish the foundation of consumer confidence that work will be completed correctly and produce the expected energy savings and benefits. Consistent high-level national standards will spur the utilization of qualified training providers that offer career-track programs for people of all skill levels, promote and expand green jobs opportunities, and facilitate the mobilization of a national home retrofit workforce. Federal Departments and Agencies (including the Department of Labor, the Department of Energy, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Environmental Protection Agency) will work in collaboration to assess existing standards and training programs and develop consistent models, guides, and best practices for training and certification. The Department of Education, the Department of Commerce, and the Small Business Administration will assist in implementing the best practices developed by the other Departments and Agencies.

This is something we are very keen on. While we grow a residential efficiency industry that is capable of retrofitting every single home in this country, we have to make sure that the work is done well or energy will not actually be saved. This is why the retrofit incentive programs before Congress are performance based (so the more energy you save the bigger incentive you get) and utilize the best industry standards. It is also crucial that the standards be consistent across the country, so the incentive provided for a kilowatt hour reduction in Vermont is the same as a kilowatt hour saved in Texas. There is so much work to do and so much energy to be saved and money to be made that we should not settle for anything less.

Overall the report points towards tapping our cleanest and cheapest energy resource by improving the efficiency of our existing building stock. It is great that so much attention is being paid to this issue in the White House, and hopefully this will help push Congress to enact the efficiency policies we need to start creating jobs and saving billions.


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Patrick ClemOct 23 2009 05:42 PM

You cant use 1 retrofit scenario for the whole US. Cant be done and wouldn't be efficient if it was.
However, I suggest that you start with the Auditing DRAFT that was put out by both BPI and RESNET (a collaborative).
Use this draft as the Bible, don't deviate from it OTHER THAN to subtract from its original text to align it to the 5 temperate climates of the US.
If you do this I will be impressed. If you don't then just go to hell. You'll just wast everyone's time and get nothing done. There's enough of that going on to choke us all.

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