Friday, January 15, 2010

NEWS: Energy-Efficiency Incentives Lauded

Home improvement chains and companies that make insulation are cheering federal proposals to give consumers incentives for making energy-efficient improvements to their homes.

But some Inland residents and business owners are reserving judgment until they hear the final details on what has been nicknamed “Cash for Caulkers.” Provisions are still being worked out by the White House and Congress.

Like last year’s “Cash for Clunkers,” which sparked auto sales in the fall with rebates up to $4,500 per vehicle, proponents say the home improvement incentives will help create and save jobs, as well as reduce energy usage and dependence on foreign oil.

In one proposal being considered in the U.S. House, about $20 billion from last year’s approved $787 billion stimulus package would go toward home improvement incentives—possibly ranging from $1,000 to more than $3,000. Supporters say about 5 million homes could be retrofitted, saving owners a total of more than $3 billion annually on energy bills.

Still to be decided is whether incentives take the form of rebates, coupons, tax breaks or a combination. Qualified projects would likely include installing insulation, sealing leaks and updating heating and air conditioning systems.

Already on the way is a national appliance rebate program, starting in March in California, which will give incentives, ranging from $50 to $100, for purchases of energy-efficient refrigerators, dishwashers, clothes washers and dryers.

Both of the energy-oriented programs, whose funding comes from last year’s economic recovery package, are expected to boost sales of eco-friendly products, though to what degree is yet to be seen.

Home improvement chains including Home Depot and Lowe’s, builder groups such as the California Contractor Exchange, and insulation makers including Dow Chemical have recently applauded plans for “Cash for Caulkers.” It is also backed by organizations advocating for low-income consumers, including the National Housing Conference.

Doug Wick, who operates two Inland businesses geared to home improvement, said he’s optimistic that new federal efforts will extend the positive results he’s seen from recent manufacturer rebates, as well as existing federal incentives.

For instance, several customers took advantage of a tax break, which began last year and runs through the end of 2010, amounting to 30 percent of the cost of installing items like energy-efficient windows, up to $1,500.

“A lot will depend on getting this housing market back on track, and having people being less worried about their jobs, so maybe they’ll want to make changes on their homes,” said Wick, who owns Redlands Door and Supplies and Doors of Distinction in Riverside.

At Jack Lindgren Builders Hardware in Riverside, second-generation owner Mike Lindgren said he’s so far not seeing a rush of contractors or consumers gearing up to capitalize on federal incentives.

“A new energy-efficient door still costs money,” Lindgren said. “I hope it gives a kick in the pants to the economy, but I just don’t know right now.”
 Rebates spur sales

Store operators said response so far to appliance-oriented energy incentives indicates customers would likely be receptive to other measures.
 Scott Taylor, president of Taylor’s Appliance in Riverside, said rebates offered by the city of Riverside, ranging from $100 to $200, have spurred steady sales of energy-efficient washers, dryers and refrigerators for the past several years.
 “I don’t know if what the state offers will be above and beyond what Riverside offers,” Taylor said. “We’ll have to see.”

Kathryn Gallagher, a Western regional spokeswoman for Home Depot, said the Atlanta-based retailer’s sales of energy-friendly lighting, appliances, water heaters and related items have generally been increasing over the past two years. She said that’s likely from a combination of recessionary belt-tightening, existing government tax credits, and rising public awareness of energy issues.
 In Oregon, which began carrying out the national appliance incentive program in December, the company’s stores have seen a steady stream of inquiries, though it’s too early to gauge the impact on sales. “People are stopping by and calling in with questions about it—it’s really a matter of education at this point,” Gallagher said.
 More details

Inland residents like Ernesto Cervantes, 35, of Moreno Valley, said they’d like to see more details before passing judgment on the potential effectiveness of “Cash for Caulkers.” But Cervantes said the economy has already prompted his family, including his wife and two children, to be energy conscious—for instance, buying and using appliances that carry the Energy Star label for energy efficiency.

“I really don’t think it will affect our actions all that much,” he said of proposed new incentives, as he wrapped up a shopping trip at a local Lowe’s store.

By Lou Hirsh, The Press-Enterprise, Riverside, Calif. January 10, 2010

No comments: