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Energy alliance spreads word about home improvement rebates

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Energy alliance spreads word about home improvement rebates

YARMOUTH — David Craig is planning to put nearly $5,000 into his 25 Madison Drive home to improve its heating efficiency, and he's looking forward to getting a chunk of that back through energy rebates.

He'll do it with help from the Maine Green Energy Alliance, a statewide nonprofit organization funded by Efficiency Maine and the U.S. Department of Energy, which is running a community education and outreach project in eight Maine communities through August 2011.

Those communities include Yarmouth, Cumberland, Topsham and Scarborough, but MGEA also wants to assist people in other areas who want to significantly decrease their energy usage, said Jed Rathband, who handles marketing and communications for MGEA.

"We would be able to help them figure out how to get (these improvements) done," Rathband said.

The Home Energy Savings Program works in conjunction with the Property Assessed Clean Energy program, a $20 million revolving loan fund that Efficiency Maine also administers to help Maine homeowners pay for energy upgrades.

The loan fund is available at low interest rates to homeowners in PACE communities. By adopting a PACE ordinance, as Cumberland and Harpswell have recently done, residents of those communities can access the loan funds.

In the rebate program, homeowners who achieve an energy use savings of 25 percent can receive a rebate for 30 percent of the project, up to $1,500. A homeowner who reaches an energy savings of 50 percent can receive a rebate for 50 percent of the project, up to $3,000, according to MGEA Executive Director Seth Murray. The money comes from federal dollars administered by Efficiency Maine.

Energy assessments must be completed by nationally certified energy advisers. MGEA helps homeowners connect with local companies.

"Depending on how much your house needs to reach 50 percent, $3,000 could potentially represent a large portion of that amount," Rathband said. "Of course, if you have a leaky 1700s house that needs all kinds of stuff, three grand is going to represent a smaller percentage of that."

Landlords are also eligible for rebates for up to four units per building. A four-unit building could earn $6,000 by achieving a 25 percent savings if the project cost totals $20,000.

The energy adviser will estimate home energy savings. Homeowners must reserve their cash rebate before starting work, and submit an incentive application form to Efficiency Maine. Once a contractor has made the improvements, the energy adviser returns to inspect them and perform a blower door test to ensure that the improvements will reap the expected energy savings.

When that test is completed, the homeowner and adviser will submit a project completion form to Efficiency Maine, along with a final contractor invoice that shows the homeowner has paid in full. Homeowners should receive their rebates about a month later.

Homeowners can also receive a federal tax credit on their April 2011 taxes. That credit covers 30 percent of materials used in the improvements, up to $1,500. While the credits do not require an audit, materials must be installed by Dec. 31 to qualify.

Craig's energy assessment on his 1986 home has been done, and he said that the weatherization work recommended through that audit would begin Nov. 22 and run 2 1/2 days. The work should improve his home's efficiency by more than 25 percent.

Craig, who serves on the Yarmouth Energy Savers committee, said he expects to receive a $1,500 rebate, plus $1,000 for signing up before Aug. 31 and a $700 federal tax credit. This $3,200 total offsets two-thirds of the $4,800 he anticipates paying in improvement costs.

He currently pays almost $2,000 year in heating oil, and expects to save about $650 after the improvements.

The average Maine household spends nearly $3,400 on energy annually, and improvements that decrease energy bills by 30 percent would save the average Maine resident more than $1,000 a year, according to MGEA. Common improvements to home energy efficiency include improving insulation, upgrading heating systems, sealing air leaks, switching lighting, installing solar water heating and replacing windows.

Rathband said more than 40 homes in Cumberland and Yarmouth are in the process of being assessed or upgraded.

"We're keeping money local, adding value to properties, making ... relatively cheap investments that are partially reimbursed, and ... your house is going to be more comfortable," Rathband said.

Call MGEA at 513-1060 or log onto mainegreenenergyalliance.org for more information.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.