You'd be hard pressed to find someone who wouldn't want to save 35 percent on their energy bills. Problem is, energy audits—inspections that reveal where your house is leaking energy—can cost money, from a few hundred dollars for a professional audit to several thousand, if you implement the recommended efficiencies, such as swapping out old and drafty windows.
Bedford residents are poised to take advantage of a new program through which property owners can cover the up-front costs of energy efficiency improvements, and pay off those projects over an extended period of up to 20 years.
The building efficiency program leverages a new financing option called PACE, or Property Assessed Clean Energy, and basically works like this: Bedford will create a Local Development Corporation (LDC) to house the program; a bond will be issued and then, on a voluntary basis, homeowners can borrow the money for energy retrofits and pay it back through an incremental property tax charge.
"This makes it affordable because property owners will benefit from savings on their energy bills as they make payments, generally with the savings immediately exceeding the costs," said Mark Thielking, Bedford's Director of Energy Resources.
And, he added, if the building is sold then the financing transfers over to the next property owner, with the ongoing energy savings.
"So homeowners don't have to worry about recouping the money in the sale of their home," he said. It's especially attractive for low-to-middle income families who may not have the available cash or a great credit score, Thielking noted.
Funds to establish the LDC were realized through a recent grant award from the U.S. Department of Energy to the Town of Bedford and the Northern Westchester Energy Action Consortium (NWEAC), for the purposes of building energy efficiency programs and implementing them in partnership with New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and New York City.
Retrofit programs nationwide received $452 million through Recovery Act funding; of that, $40 million was awarded to NYSERDA, with $1.26 million potentially coming to Bedford.
The grant enables Bedford to immediately launch its pilot program to promote residential energy efficiency through Home Performance with Energy Star energy audits and efficiency retrofits, first in Bedford and ultimately in 14 neighboring towns that form the Northern Westchester Energy Action Consortium (NWEAC).
So how onerous will it be for the average homeowner in Bedford to participate?
Not too bad, Thielking said. "We are aiming to do as much as possible online. Of course, we'll have to work out any kinks in the pilot program," he said. He emphasized that the Home Improvements with Energy Star program has been around for ten years, but they will improve upon its delivery with the PACE program, and a new, robust database made possible with the grant funds.
The town will hire a program director to run the LDC and oversee the web tools available to the homeowner. Currently, NYSERDA provides a list of 32 contractors in Westchester County who perform energy audits. The database includes rudimentary ratings based on observations done at one out of every ten homes audited.
"But we will have more than just a listing; we'll aggregate data based on third-party observations of actual audits in three out of every four homes, and, based on post-performance ratings whereby a resident can verify that the energy savings predicted by the contractor were actually realized by the customer. We'll also include a contractor's specialty, for example, if they are skilled at retrofitting a certain type of building, such as a home built in the 1950's," said Thielking.
Along with reducing energy costs for building owners, Thielking said the program will improve our air quality, create new jobs and reduce imports of fossil fuels.
The program goals are ambitious: By year six, NWEAC hopes to have 6500 homes retrofitted; 47,060 metric tons of CO2 emission reductions; $4,651,200 average annual utility savings; and the creation or retention of local jobs.
Bedford residents should expect to see some information from the Bedford 2020 Coalition, which will take the lead in educating residents about the benefits of the program. The Coalition will not be receiving any funds from this award and is currently seeking both volunteers and support for this program.