Executive Actions on Energy – What It Means

The last few years have seen a slurry of executive actions on clean, sustainable energy from the Federal government. There’s way more than just the Clean Power Plan. So what is there and what does it mean?

In March of this year, President Obama signed an Executive Order, Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade, which also included some interesting policy steps and aggressive Federal energy targets. In August the White House announced a whole host of actions, some new and some not. Here’s just a few significant pieces from the August announcement.

  • Making an additional $1 billion loan guarantee authority available and announcing new guidelines for distributed energy projects utilizing innovative technology and states looking to access this financing
  • Unlocking Residential Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Financing
  • Launching a new HUD and DOE program to provide home owners with a simple way to measure and improve the energy efficiency of their homes, by increasing homeowners borrowing power

Loan Guarantees

Loan guarantees have been a much discussed tool of the Department of Energy (DOE). Perhaps you remember Solyndra? There are two key things to remember about the new action announced in August. First, DOE is no longer placing loan guarantees on companies, like Solyndra or Tesla, but on projects. This is notable because it makes loan guarantees company agnostic and technology-centric. In other words, DOE doesn’t care who you are or, to some degree, what you are selling. They only care that your project makes economic sense. If it does, they can help with a loan guarantee. A good example of this in practice would be an energy-storage project with a signed contract from a utility company.

Second, the new announcement calls for $1 billion on loan guarantees on distributed energy technologies. This includes technologies such as rooftop solar, energy storage, and smart grid technology. Loan guarantees have been around quite some time, even before the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. This is a specific carve-out for distributed energy technologies which represents a fundamental bet on the future of energy in America.

Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Financing

We wrote about PACE in Alabama a while back. Feel free to read up on it!

PACE financing has not always been well received. The main issue at hand is its senior loan position. Mortgage companies typically have the first right to the property after a governmental property tax lien. If you default on your property taxes, the government, typically local, can seize the property. The same thing can happen if you don’t pay your mortgage. But what happens if you don’t pay either? Well, the government gets their share first.

Herein lies the problem with PACE. If you are repaying energy-efficiency or renewable-energy upgrades through your property taxes, it becomes senior to the mortgage. If you default, there are less possible funds available to make the bank whole on the mortgage.

The big news here is Federal Housing Administration (FHA) backed loans are now compatible with PACE. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is issuing a preliminary statement indicating the conditions under which borrowers purchasing or refinancing properties with existing PACE assessments will be eligible to use FHA-insured financing. Since FHA backs an enormous amount of mortgages, PACE could become much easier for millions of Americans.

*Note: But not in Alabama. PACE, as currently defined by Alabama law, is only available to commercial properties.

FHA, HUD and Energy Efficiency

It turns out that people are much less likely to default on a home that is energy-efficient. This is pretty intuitive actually. If the home costs less to operate, chances are higher that the homeowner will be able to make their monthly mortgage payment.

To that end, HUD and DOE are launching a program to provide potential homeowners with an easy way to measure and improve the energy efficiency of their homes. Under the new HUD and DOE Home Energy Score partnership, in areas where the Home Energy Score is available, single family households will be able to increase their access to financing tools to make energy-efficiency improvements.

Note: DOE’s Home Energy Score offers a “miles per gallon” type rating to estimate a home’s energy use on a 10-point scale. A “1” corresponds to the least energy-efficient homes and a “10” corresponds to the most energy-efficient homes, while the average U.S. home will score a “5.”

Through this new partnership, home buyers or homeowners who want to obtain an FHA-insured purchase or refinance a mortgage for a single family home that receives a Home Energy Score of 6 or higher will be eligible to increase their income qualifying ratio by 2 percentage points above the standard Single Family FHA limit, making it easier to secure financing to make these improvements.

Summing it Up

Most of the recent action can be described as those to make clean, sustainable energy easier for the average American. This is being achieved through new programs, reducing red tape and increasing investment in targeted areas. If you’re in the market for a new home or a new to you home, take a look at what is out there that you can take advantage of. Energy efficient mortgages and 203(k) renovation loans are still great tools to help you. Long story short? Sustainable energy at the individual level was already cost-effective. And it just got easier too!

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Jeff Baker Electric Car charging station

Sustainable Energy Superstar – Jeff Baker

 

Solar Panels, Electric Cars, and new friends to nosh on pizza with: those are just a few of the many gifts Jeff Baker receives from his sustainable lifestyle.

Jeff drives an electric car.Chevy VoltHe has his own charging station attached to the side of his garage.Electric vehicle charging portHe also has 12 solar panels on his rooftop.

“Does that power your house completely?” I ask.

“It covers more than my car charging I know that.” Jeff says

“Is that why you put the solar in, to charge your vehicle?” I ask.

“Honestly,” grins Jeff. “It was more about publicity. I just wanted to be an early adopter and I really liked the idea of having [solar panels] located right here, co-located with the charging equipment, to showcase how well the technology synergizes.”

solar panels

 

 

“If I lived in California I’d be behind the times. But in Madison…. we’re the third household that’s even done this.”

There were lots of inspections and permits and electrical upgrades involved in getting the permit for solar on Jeff’s thirty-year-old house. At one point, he thought he might have to stop the whole effort but things worked out and now his home is up to code and his solar panels are creating about 3 kW of power per day.

“This allows me [freedom] to make my own energy here, use it to get where I’m going, and also if you add the right accessories, to store it and use it to respond to a natural disaster, or other kinds of power outages.”

Much of our conversation revolved around what its like to own and drive an electric car. If the thought of searching for a charging station while traveling makes you uneasy, you aren’t alone. There’s even an application called “Plug Share” Plug Share appwhere electric car drivers can locate charging stations.

In fact, the whole phenomenon has led to rather unusual friendships for Jeff.

Chevy Volt charging

 

“I’ve had through travelers that found me on Plug Share. Someone from Nashville came down to visit the Space and Rocket Center and realized they didn’t have enough charge to get back home…they called roadside assistance and got sent here because I’m listed publicly. “

Electric cars require planning because you have to allow for charge time. Jeff says drivers approach it in many different ways. Some sit in their cars and wait.

“Maybe they have a hot spot in their cars and they just surf the web.”

“Using the battery on their phones while they’re charging the battery on their car….” I say.

TurboCord electric car chargerWe get a shared laugh over that dichotomy.

Jeff says there are now higher-end electric vehicles that charge more quickly. But the Volt is designed for overnight charging.

“How long will that take?” I ask.

“Well it depends. There are different rates. It depends on the voltage as well as the current.”

“There’s a portable charger that comes with the car that will just run off the basic wall outlet. It doesn’t need any specialized circuitry or anything. It’s gonna take a whole night, maybe 9 – 10 hours. It still gets you there.”

“What I’m connected to right now is a dual voltage charger called a Turbocord.”

The cost and technology are changing rapidly. Volts emerged around 2011 and marketed at around 40K. Four years later, they sell for around 33K with better batteries and better technology all around.

 

“I just read today that 80% of 14 year-olds think their first car will be electric.

Jeff, you really are way ahead of the times! Thanks for sharing.

Jeff Baker - Electric car driving Sustainable Superstar

Mission: Net Zero Solar House

Mission: Net Zero Solar Marketplace Launched in North Alabama

Huntsville, AL – Mission: Net Zero, a marketplace designed to drive down solar costs and increase solar installations, launched this week in Huntsville. The program is administered by Energy Alabama and its partner Solar Site Design. Mission: Net Zero pairs solar originators, those who add projects to the marketplace, with solar fulfillment companies, those who can build the installations. The two largest solar companies in the area, Southern Solar Systems and Lightwave Solar, joined the program.

This partnership allows non-traditional solar companies to enter the market in a low-cost, low-risk way and provides traditional solar companies with a more consistent sales engine built on trusted relationships.

“Economics drove us to create this program. Solar on rural small businesses right here in North Alabama can see paybacks between two and four years,” says Daniel Tait, CEO of Energy Alabama. “People and businesses need to know the possibilities. This is real.”

“The next few years will be revolutionary for solar energy across the Southeast United States,” said Jason Loyet, Solar Site Design founder. “Demand is increasing, public policy is becoming more supportive and carbon-based fossil fuels are being regulated more and more as the public calls for cleaner energy solutions. At the same time, solar equipment costs are continuing their historic decreases. And that’s where Solar Site Design comes in, to reduce what remains the most challenging portion of the cost structure in the solar equation – soft costs and customer acquisition. We have teamed with Energy Alabama to activate the next generation of solar originators and referral agents.”

Companies or individuals who are interested in becoming solar originators or exploring the economics of solar at their home or business can learn more at: https://alcse.org/mission-net-zero

About Energy Alabama

Energy Alabama is accelerating the transition to sustainable, clean energy throughout Alabama. We do this by widely promoting sustainable energy as a feasible, state-wide goal by executing high-impact clean energy projects across the state, and by providing people with information and opportunities to help make clean energy choices. We work with policy makers, public agencies, local governments, educational institutions, utilities, business and civic leaders, and individuals to transform Alabama’s energy marketplace and beyond.

About Solar Site Design

Solar Site Design is a collaborative, cloud-based platform that connects highly-qualified solar project referrals to leading solar companies to drive down customer acquisition costs. Our proprietary business process is designed to reduce the solar industry’s customer acquisition costs by up to 50%. In May of 2015, Solar Site Design won the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Catalyst Award. The aim of SunShot is to bring the cost of solar energy down to parity with fossil fuels as quickly as possible. To learn more, please visit www.solarsitedesign.com.

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If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Daniel Tait by phone at (256) 303-7773 or by email at dtait@alcse.org.

10 ways to make your home more energy efficient

10 Ways to Increase Energy Efficiency

What is Energy Efficiency?

We talk a lot about energy efficiency around here. It’s one of our core values because we can’t reach net zero without it. But, what is energy efficiency? What does it even mean?

Energy efficiency is doing the same things you always do, but using less energy to do them. Remember when you were a kid and you’d leave the front (or back) door open and mom would yell at you and ask if you were raised in a barn? The next thing out her mouth would be something about heating (or cooling) the outdoors. Yeah, well when you heating or cooling the outdoors you are not making the best use of your energy.

Energy efficiency means that you are optimally using the energy in your home and not wasting it. You don’t have air leaking out windows, you aren’t leaving doors open, and you don’t have cold air seeping into the house through wall sockets and unsealed duct work. When your home is energy-efficient you aren’t wasting money on your electric bill, you are using exactly what you need and no more.

Before we can bother with doing things like installing solar, we’ve got to make sure the building is energy-efficient. It’s a huge waste to install solar when so much of the energy you are creating is escaping the building it’s being created for.

Ever since ENERGY STAR became such a big deal it seems like most people think that that’s the core of energy efficiency, and yes ENERGY STAR appliances are much more efficient than their counterparts. But, the truth is that energy efficiency is so much simpler. There are ton of small ways that we can improve the energy efficiency in our homes and commercial buildings.

10 Ways to Increase Energy Efficiency

  1. Seal your duct work. Buy a tub of duct sealant and make sure that your duct work is sealed, this includes the ducts under your home as well as where they come into your home (the vents). While it may not seem like a big deal, a lot of air can escape through those tiny cracks between the floor and the ducts.
  2. Check your faucets for leaks. A leak left unattended can cost you big time on your water bill. Too often we don’t even realize that there is a leak until it’s too late, and often months have passed with increased electric bills. Keep an eye on your electric bill if you notice a large increase in water or electric usage there may be a problem.
  3. Insulate your water heater and pipes. If you are like many of us your water heater is in your uninsulated garage, but you don’t have to insulate your entire garage to insulate your water heater. You can purchase a water heater jacket for a minimal price and install it yourself, not only reducing the energy the unit has to use to heat your water, but it will decrease the time it takes for hot water to reach other areas of your home.
  4. Install a programmable thermostat. Whether you go with a basic unit or one of the new fancy thermostats that programs itself based on your actions, a programmable thermostat will not only save you money but will keep your home much more comfortable.
  5. Wash your laundry in cold water. Your clothes will be just as clean, but you’ll save a ton of energy that is wasted just to heat the water.
  6. Swap out light bulbs. I bet if you take a look around your house you will find that you still have some old incandescent bulbs stealing energy. Swap those old bulbs out for new LED and CFL bulbs. These bulbs use as little as 1/10 of the energy of the old bulbs and put as just as much (or more) light.
  7. Replace appliances before they die. Chances are your appliances are close to 10 years old. If you are still using old non-Energy Star appliances consider replacing them with more efficient appliances before they die. You’ll not only save energy (and money) in the long-term but you’ll save yourself from the short-term headache of having to rush out and replace a dead unit.
  8. Clean and replace filters. Check your air filters and replace them on a regular schedule.
  9. Check the humidity. If you struggle with keeping your home cool enough in the warmer months you may want to check the humidity. A $10 humidistat will allow you to see the indoor humidity. If it’s too high you’ll want to purchase and install a dehumidifier. Doing this will reduce your cooling bills and make your home much more comfortable.
  10. Caulk leaky windows – use rope caulk to caulk those leaky windows. Did you know you are losing a ton of energy to leaky windows (even if they are new)? Those little cracks can equate to having a window (or even two) open as wide as they will go.

 

It doesn’t seem like much, and these are just a few of the many easy things you can do around your house to save energy and save money.  Feel free to leave a comment and tell us what you’ve done to improve energy efficiency around your home or office.

Sun Saves Money for Alabama Chicken Farmer

“There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace. To avoid the first danger, one should plant a garden, preferably where there is no grocer to confuse the issue. To avoid the second, he should lay a split of good oak on the andirons, preferably where there is no furnace, and let it warm his shins while a February blizzard tosses the trees outside.”

~Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

 

 

Powering chicken coops with solarRicky McGee of Fyffe, Alabama is a poultry farmer. When I visited his business on an overcast day in October his coops were empty and clean, awaiting the next batch of chicks.


The roof of that same coop, however, was anything but empty. It was being outfitted with 161 solar panels by Tennessee Tennessee Solar Solutions of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

 

 

 

 

Putting solar on a chicken coop

 

Why put solar on a chicken coops?

Ricky McGee is a pioneer among his peers as the first poultry farmer in Northern Alabama to tap into the sun to offset enormous electrical costs associated with poultry farming.

 

“I’m a guinea pig, that’s what I am,” Ricky says good-naturedly.

Heating and cooling chickens can cost a lot. The birds are very susceptible to temperature change, especially in the summer months.

 

Pictured (L-R):  Tennessee Solar Solutions: Josh Hood, Installer; Anthony Roden, President; Rod Harrison, Sales Manager; Brandon Carter, Vice President.
Bottom:  Ricky McGee

Chicken farmers going solar

 

 

 

 

 

 

“They run huge water coolers in here to keep it cooled…they have utility bills that could be well over $1,000 a month.” – Rod Harrison of Tennessee Solar Solutions

Solar SolutionsThe biggest cost is the initial installation but that investment would be higher if not for two factors on Ricky’s side: the project is both agricultural and rural. That makes farmers eligible for a special USDA grant called REAP. The grant pays one quarter of the install costs. And, as a commercial operation, Ricky will be eligible for a 30% federal tax credit.

Ricky won’t use the solar directly. Instead, he sells it back to Sand Mountain Authority. “He feeds back into the grid and they offset his bill by the amount of energy he generated. It’s a credit and debit transaction,” says Rod Harrison.  If all goes as planned, the sun’s energy could cover 75% of the farmer’s electrical costs.  We’ll keep our fingers crossed.

 

 

Tennessee Solar Solutions ranks 319 out of more than 10,000 solar installation companies in the nation and this project is their first poultry farm. They hope others will soon follow, spreading sunny savings throughout the southeast states of Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia.