Energy program reaches out to homeowners

Energy Upgrade California, the state-funded program that promotes home retrofits with rebates up to $4,000, has gotten off to a slow start since its official launch earlier this year.

Faced with the state’s slow economic recovery and low public awareness, the program has revved up its outreach efforts with a series of public workshops, including a session set for 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday at Palm Springs City Hall.

“It’s to get as many stakeholders — whether homeowner, contractors or local officials — in the same room and let them know what’s going on,” said Drew Henley, program manager for the California Center for Sustainable Energy, a San Diego nonprofit that is helping to organize the event.

With $100 million in state funding for its first two years, Energy Upgrade California offers homeowners rebates ranging from $1,000 to $4,000 to make specific energy-efficient home improvements.

In the Coachella Valley, only residents in Southern California Edison’s service territory are eligible. The Imperial Irrigation District has its own rebate programs for homeowners and businesses, but is not participating in Energy Upgrade California.

The Edison program also requires homeowners to work with contractors it has certified as having special training in testing buildings for energy efficiency.

The program takes a “whole house” approach to energy efficiency, said Rick Powell, owner of RMC EnergyWise Homes in La Quinta, one of a handful of Coachella Valley contractors certified for the program.

The goal is to seal and insulate the house first and then ensure heating and air conditioning systems are sized correctly.

“Solar radiation is the biggest attack on your home; it’s 40 percent of the load,” he said. “We’re trying to keep the sun’s heat from getting in the house.”

But the still-sputtering valley economy and a lack of upfront financing options remain the biggest brakes on getting homeowner buy-in, said Powell, who also trains other contractors to qualify for the program.

“People are frightened right now,” he said. “Who wants to go into debt? Even though you’re going to save money on your electric bill, you’re still in debt.”

Kevin Nunn, a residential energy financing specialist for Comstock Mortgage of Sacramento, said affordable financing options are available, including home retrofit loans from the California Rural Home Mortgage Finance Authority.

Energy efficiency financing also can be integrated into regular refinancing or mortgage packages, said Nunn, who is scheduled to speak at Thursday’s event.

“It’s underutilized because lenders and Realtors don’t understand the program,” he said. “They don’t make the connection where the benefits are for them.”

Haining Sunwe New Energy Co., Ltd.

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