Council OKs energy efficiency loan program
Plan would help homeowners retrofit houses
Dan Gross/ The Gazette
The Montgomery County Council approved a bill Tuesday to create a low-interest loan program that will allow homeowners to make energy-efficient improvements to their homes.
The program would be funded by the National Home Energy Savings Revolving Fund Act, a federal bill introduced to the House of Representatives on March 17 by Rep. Christopher Van Hollen, Jr. (D-Dist. 8) of Kensington.
"I'm very pleased Montgomery County is the first county in the region to approve a Home Energy Loan Program," County Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Potomac said Tuesday after the council vote. "HELP is on the way."
The program would give loans—up to $10,000—to county residents wishing to make their homes more energy efficient with proper insulation, tightly-sealed windows and other energy-saving measures. Berliner introduced the bill in February, after meeting with federal officials on the matter. The bill passed unanimously on Tuesday.
Following the vote, Berliner and Van Hollen were joined by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) at the Bethesda home of Bruce and Shannon Russell. The Russells had a home energy audit done in October, and have since had $1,700 worth of energy-efficient improvements done to their home.
"We think it's appreciably warmer," Sharon Russell said before the event. "The drafts are gone, so I'm not as cold and irritable in the morning."
The loans would be repayable over at least a 15-year-period and each home would need to have a home energy audit done, like the Russells, Van Hollen said. The audit is a home-wide inspection, highlighting trouble spots where heat and cold could escape, decreasing the efficiency of the home.
Van Hollen said the House bill has "strong bipartisan support" and will be debated in the coming months. It would create a National Home Energy Savings Revolving Fund, initially funded at $5 billion a year in 2010 and 2011, respectively.
Van Hollen said he hopes the bill will help up to one million households nationwide.
"Energy efficiency helps reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, helps the environment, and saves homeowners some money," he said.
Sharon Russell estimated that the improvements to her home will save her and her husband $360 a year, or $30 a month in utility costs. The $1,700 cost of the improvements will, at that rate, pay for themselves in energy savings within five years, she said.
Walter Auburn, director of the Maryland Energy Administration's energy efficiency division, said over the past 10 years approximately 1,000 standing market-rate homes and 10,000 standing low-income homes have had energy audits, less than 1 percent of the nearly 2 million homes in Maryland.
"You have to have people ready to make the changes," Auburn said. "Homeowners need to get the audits, but then they also need the retrofits."