Friday, Oct 30–Council Irons Out Energy Audit Program Wrinkles

BERLIN – Berlin homeowners who make improvements to the energy efficiency of their homes following the guidance of a town-sponsored energy audit could get a percent of those costs back as a credit on electric bills.

Last year, the Berlin Mayor and Council set aside $30,000 to fund the energy audit assistance program.

The town has two employees trained to conduct free energy audits, which are home surveys to measure how much energy a house loses. Currently, each audit takes about one day to conduct, but staff expects that time period to shorten as the audit-trained employees get more experience.

Once the audit is complete, staff will furnish the homeowner with a written list of improvements to make to the house. There is no obligation to make those improvements. 

Staff proposed credits of 10 percent of the cost of improvements, up to $250, which would be reflected on the customer’s electric bill.

“This actually would come off of their utility bills. We would not be issuing checks up to $250 … our feeling is the $250 limit would enable us to do about 120 residents and households,” said Berlin town administrator Tony Carson.

Some formal guidelines needed to be established so the credit program can get under way, Carson said.

On Monday night, the town council asked staff to bring back a package of changes to the guidelines for the improvements credit.

One change town elected officials would like to see is a list of what people could get credit for doing under the program.

The energy audits identify energy-wasting items such as leaky ductwork, the lack of a storm door, or compressed insulation.

“It’s fairly general,” said Berlin Electric Manager Dave Thomas. Staff will look at everything that uses energy, he said.

The question of whether replacement appliances should be included in the reimbursable list arose.

“I saw it as helping get homes more secure,” said Councilwoman Lisa Hall, by promoting improvements to the physical structure of the house.

Improvements to a structure are more important than more energy efficient appliances, she said.

Hall suggested a two-part list, with physical structure improvements followed by the replacement of older appliances with more energy efficient models.

Councilwoman Paula Lynch suggested a sliding scale of credits, because people who really need the help are less likely to be able to make big-ticket repairs. Those who spend less than a certain amount could receive a higher percentage credit under a sliding scale.

Mayor Gee Williams wondered whether the 10-percent credit required homeowners to make too much of an expenditure to garner a substantial credit.

“You don’t penalize people just because they don’t have cash on hand,” said Williams.

Councilman Dean Burrell suggested that the town offer the credit on partial repairs made even if the improvements do not completely take care of the recommendations from the energy audit, allowing people to make the most of potentially limited funds, resulting in a better incentive.

“The maximum is always $250,” said Lynch.

“The schedule has to be something anybody can look at and figure out,” said Williams.

Carson also recommended imposing a post-audit time period during which a resident may apply for the credit on improvements made in response to the audit.

The town will verify that work has been done and money paid for that work before applying the credit.

“They have to submit receipts,” said Lynch.

Carson said a system of checks and balances will be in place.

“We’ll actually go out and audit to make sure the work is done and verify it,” said Carson.

Do it yourselfers can participate, staff said.

“Any materials they purchase certainly would qualify,” said Carson. “Were not going to reimburse anyone’s labor.”

Lynch asked Carson why the plan called for a credit rather than a reimbursement.

Some of the electric customers seeking the credit might owe money on their electric bills, Carson explained.

“I have a hard time sending someone $250 if they owe us $1,000,” said Carson.

Those interested in scheduling an energy audit should call Town Hall, Carson said.

The town council will consider the final policy at its first November meeting.

So far, according to staff, eight Berlin electric customers have asked about the audit service.

“I think we have a lot to learn as we move forward,” said Lynch. “At least people are starting to take us up on the offer.”