Weatherization rebates touted

Posted Jan. 08, 2010, at 8:44 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Homeowners in Maine are now eligible to receive rebates of $1,500 to $3,000 on weatherization projects that reduce energy usage under a new program unveiled Friday.

Up to 4,000 homes will receive money from the Maine Home Performance program, which is funded with $9 million in federal stimulus dollars that the state received for energy initiatives.

Preapproved weatherization projects that reduce fuel usage for heat and hot water by 25 percent would be eligible for up to $1,500 in rebates while those that achieve energy savings of 50 percent or more would be eligible for up to $3,000. Federal tax incentives of up to $1,500 also could help offset the costs of weatherization.

There are no income limits on the program, which is administered by the Efficiency Maine program within the Public Utilities Commission.

However, homeowners must have an energy audit performed by a certified auditor. Eligible improvements include: insulation and air sealing, energy-efficient replacement windows, high-efficiency heating and hot water equipment, including solar water heaters, programmable thermostats and water-saving devices.

“This will be an effective program to encourage more Mainers to make improvements to their homes so that their families can stay warm, more secure, safer and economically more secure,” Gov. John Baldacci said during a press event at the State House. “This program is about saving Mainers money and about providing jobs to energy auditors, energy installers and retailers.”

Maine has one of the oldest housing stocks in the nation, and roughly 80 percent of homes in the state are heated with oil. As of Jan. 4, the average heating oil price in the state was $2.67 a gallon. While that is significantly below the price at the height of the oil crisis roughly two years ago, oil prices have been rising in recent weeks.

The administration has set an ambitious goal of weatherizing all Maine homes by 2020 as part of its efforts to move the state away from its dependence on foreign oil, something that Baldacci insists is necessary both for economic and national security reasons.

Speakers on Friday acknowledged that the government could not afford to help pay for all of those improvements but said the $9 million in stimulus money would provide a significant incentive to homeowners and help support a growing industry.

Although the panic to winterize homes has subsided since heating oil prices spiked at nearly $5 a gallon two years ago, weatherization experts remain in high demand in Maine. The state has significantly expanded training and certification programs for auditors and installation technicians, and the number of firms offering such services is growing.

“We need all of the help we can get to grow these kinds of businesses, and homeowners need all of the help that they can get because you need skilled labor to do these things,” said Richard Riegel Burbank with Evergreen Home Performance of Rockland. Burbank said his company, which was a one-man business a few years ago, now has 14 employees.

Among the dozens of people on hand Friday were a couple taking advantage of the program to winterize their nearly 180-year-old farmhouse in Warren.

Stuart Finkelstein and Jane Funk said they were burning six or seven cords a year plus 300 gallons of heating oil but were still cold. Finkelstein said the $25,000 worth of improvements — partially offset by the $3,000 rebate — would reduce energy usage by 50 percent.

Finkelstein joked that he and his wife realized the difference Friday morning when they were able to stand in their kitchen without having to dress up like cross-country skiers, despite single-digit temperatures outside.

“We are committed to that house and we are committed to where we live in our community, so it’s an investment that we see will make a good return to us,” he said.

Dale McCormick, director of the Maine State Housing Authority, said the average cost in Maine for an energy audit and weatherization work is about $8,000 and that the average energy savings is around 25 percent.

The average Maine household now spends $2,400 a year on heating costs.

Earlier this week, the Baldacci administration announced nearly $9 million in energy efficiency grants to Maine businesses, also funded with federal stimulus money.

For more information on the program, call toll free 877-334-6583 or visit online: www.efficiencymaine.com/mainehomeperformance.htm

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