Saturday, March 13, 2010

Energy Efficiency Loans Help Save Both the Economy and the Environment

By Lisa Piccinini.

In just a few weeks Maryland legislators will hold hearings for House Bill 1014 and Senate Bill 720 – the Clean Energy Loan Programs. Introduced by Delegate Sue Hecht and Senator Thomas Middleton, the bills hold tremendous potential for Maryland’s business owners, residents, and for our environment. If passed, the bill will go into effect June 1 of this year.

The bill calls for a program providing loans to residential property owners for the financing of energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. Basically, its aim is to help residents save money by providing means to obtain a loan for the upfront costs of increasing home energy efficiency. The bill also applies to commercial property owners.

The cost-effective upgrades or retrofits that these loans would provide for include things such as insulation, water heating, and appliance efficiency. Potential upgrades would be identified by an energy audit performed for every property prior to loan approval. The audit identifies energy-efficient and cost-effective projects for the property that would generate yearly energy cost savings. Through this program the loans will be repaid by the property owner via a surcharge on the owner’s property tax bill, over a period not to exceed 15 years. The loans could be provided by banks, non-profits, or through the Maryland Clean Energy Center. This innovative way to finance loans encourages home owners to consider becoming more energy efficient.

The bill is a perfect opportunity for the state to encourage jobs, economic spending, and show national leadership. Because each potential loan begins with an energy audit, the bill encourages energy auditing companies operating within the state. Once a loan has been approved and retrofitting begins, the installation requires manpower; again, a source for jobs. The state would show strong support of auditing and retrofitting companies, as well as of renewable energy businesses, by allowing loans for residents to obtain their services.

Jobs, of course, spur spending in the economy. But so do increased savings. A resident who saves money on heating and cooling in their home, for example, can spend that money elsewhere in the economy. In fact, the average U.S. resident spends $1900 per year on utility bills, with 43% of that money going to heating and cooling systems. Just having ducts thoroughly sealed can save a home as much as 20% in heating and cooling costs. Leaking ducts are just one example of what an energy audit would locate as a source for an increase in energy-efficiency. Residents can easily calculate estimated energy savings through the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy savings calculator.

It is important to note this bill is a call for leadership on the state’s behalf. Maryland has already proved a commitment to the environment through passing the Greenhouse Gas Reductions Act, but that is only a step in the right direction. Passing this bill would continue Maryland’s positive trend of leadership and avoid falling to the wayside as other states move forward. Gunnison, Eagle, and Pitkin Counties – all in western Colorado - have shown such leadership, introducing clean energy and energy efficiency investments through loans covering the upfront costs of the investments. In Boulder County almost 400 energy projects began the first summer the program was implemented, allowing small businesses to add critical new jobs. Maryland’s loan program could show similar results.

Finally, this is a chance to foster environmental stewardship of this great state. Although our focus is often on the bay, we need to care for all elements of Maryland; this means decreasing the emissions we release to the air. One substantial way of doing so is by becoming energy efficient in our homes and exploring renewable energy options. Proper home maintenance and upgrades can reduce environmental emissions by up to 50%. These loans would allow Maryland residents to do just this.

So check out your energy bill. This program could be your next step to you saving – both money and the environment. Call your state representatives and express your support for this bill.

Lisa Piccinini
UMD for Clean Energy Media Director
University of Maryland