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Getting More Bang for the Buck: Green Jobs/Green New York by Sarah Charlop-Powers

Save Money, Save Energy
Every winter, our national dependence on foreign energy sources becomes glaringly obvious to families across the country. Tied to the fluctuating cost of oil, home heating can be one of our greatest expenditures. The safety net for families facing high energy costs is often insufficient and many households struggle to make ends meet. Despite the availability of information about improving residential efficiency, relatively few individuals take proactive steps to reduce energy use.

Last year, New York State passed legislation to stimulate job growth while reducing residential energy costs. The Green Jobs/Green New York (GJGNY) Program provides New Yorkers with access to energy audits, installation services, low-cost financing and training for green-collar careers. The program is endowed with $112 million from the sale of carbon emission credits and is intended to create 14,000 family-sustaining jobs, while significantly reducing energy costs for an estimated 1 million homes and businesses.

Home Efficiency
The average home loses nearly half of its heat. This is an undue tax on the environment, wasting limited resources and emitting greenhouse gases without providing a human benefit. In contrast, energy efficient homes use far less energy, minimizing both economic and environmental impacts.

Most people have very little concept of the inefficiencies in their homes. For example, more than 30% of heat loss comes from walls and ceilings, whereas windows only account for 10%. Unexpected sources such as poorly sealed pipes and fireplaces are responsible for another 25%. The good news is that insulation and sealing tend to be relatively inexpensive, giving homeowners a big bang for their buck. Though the sale of high-efficiency new homes is steadily increasing, new home construction currently represents a small portion of the home market. Improving existing homes is a must and is best accomplished when the characteristics of each building is considered. To accomplish this goal, the New York State Energy Research and Research Development Authority (NYSERDA) has incentivized home-specific retrofits.

The Home Performance with Energy Star program is a residential energy audit service that allows homeowners to hire an independent contractor who provides a comprehensive assessment of the home, and with the addition of Green Jobs/Green New York funds, most households qualify for free energy audits of their homes under the program. The auditors, who are certified by the Building Performance Institute, assess the heating and cooling systems of the home, as well as the building’s insulation and windows. Using diagnostic tests which measure air leakage, heat loss and appliance efficiency, contractors can identify cost-effective energy saving improvements such as adding insulation, sealing vents and ducts, repairing and replacing heating and cooling systems, water heater upgrades, windows, appliances, light bulbs and health and safety improvements. The auditor provides a detailed report, which outlines suggested retrofits. The report includes a cost estimate and approximate payback period for each improvement.

How to Participate
Applicants for this program must own a one-to-four family residential building, meet the income qualifications and may not have previously received a free or reduced cost audit. By submitting a simple one-page application and providing information about the previous year’s utilities, a homeowner is eligible. The audit is free for households earning less than twice the area median income and are subsidized for families with higher incomes. 92% of households are eligible for free audits. Applications and program information are available at www.getenergysmart.org. The applicant receives a reservation number that can be used with any contractor in the NYSERDA network.

After the audit is complete, the customer can decide whether to pursue the suggested retrofits. Participating customers receive a 10% rebate and are eligible to finance up to $13,000 at rates of between 3.49% and 3.99%. Retrofits are expected to save between 30 to 40% of energy use, resulting in savings that are greater than the associated loan. Information about Energy Star Financing is available at www.energyfinancesolutions.com/main/homeownersnyfour.

Job Training Opportunities
Individuals interested in becoming participating contractors can receive training through the Clean Energy Technology Consortium (CETT) at Ulster, Dutchess, Sullivan, Orange and Rockland community colleges. CETT also offers courses in photovoltaics, wind energy, solar thermal and geothermal. More information is available at www.sustainhv.org/cetc-who

BPI training is appropriate for existing contractors and for individuals interested in a career change. NYSERDA provides a 50% reimbursement for BPI training courses and a 25% reimbursement for home performance equipment. Contractors are reimbursed $250 for each audit performed. All home retrofits must be done with a certified contractor in order to be eligible for rebates and financing. Participating contractors also benefit from funding for advertising and from project referrals from other in-network contractors.

Why Act Now?
With winter well underway, there’s no better time to explore energy efficiency upgrades to your home when you can get a comprehensive audit—which will provide you with valuable information and help you to prioritize future retrofits—at no cost. You’ll benefit from an increased understanding of how your home works and a sense how much individual upgrades will cost. If you decide to invest in retrofits, you can take advantage of low-interest financing and rebates. It is unusual to be invited to take advantage of something with a high value at no cost. Green Jobs/Green New York offers a rare opportunity—consider signing up today.

For more information about Green Jobs Green New York, please visit Getenergysmart.org, and contact Mid-Hudson Energy $mart Communities at 845.331.2238.

Sarah Charlop-Powers lives in Rosendale, NY, where she serves as the chair of the Town’s Climate Task Force.



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