Questions Raised On Limits Of Energy Assistance Program

BERLIN – Berlin’s energy efficiency improvement help program needs more time before the Berlin Mayor and Council is comfortable adding the replacement of old appliances and systems with more energy efficient models to the list of items eligible for reimbursement.

The energy audit credit program offers money to homeowners who make repairs or improvements based on energy audits of their homes.

Home improvements and materials costing up to $500 qualify for a credit of 50 percent of the amount spent. Improvements over $500 qualify for a flat $250 credit, no matter how much the homeowner spends. Do-it-yourselfers are eligible for a credit on materials. All credits are reimbursements based on actual receipts and invoices.

Councilman Troy Purnell said during Monday night’s town council meeting that he has received some calls recently from people wondering why the town’s energy improvement credit program does not reimburse homeowners for replacing old appliances with more energy efficient systems.

“It opens the whole can of worms on washers and dryers,” said Councilwoman Paula Lynch.

Swapping out an old air conditioning system for a new one can be a big improvement in energy use, Purnell said.

Appliances and HVAC systems are not included in energy audits, which are the basis of the credits for improvements program, Lynch said.

Town administrator Tony Carson said the town council could change the list of reimbursable actions if desired.

The town set aside $30,000 this year to reimburse homeowners for improvements recommended by an energy audit. Just four or five residents have taken advantage of that offer so far, Carson said.

The list of eligible improvements should be looked at, said Councilwoman Lisa Hall, as it is somewhat confusing.

Replacing an HVAC system can result in major energy savings, Hall said. She suggested going one step further and helping homeowners prioritize the home improvement recommendations from the energy audit to get the best results for the least money.

Since so few are participating, perhaps the permitted reimbursables are too restrictive, Hall said.

“I think we need to stay away from appliances,” Councilman Dean Burrell said.

Burrell asked: “What does the town do when someone replaces an old, small television with a new, more energy efficient, large one?”

Burrell recommending to his colleagues, “let it work awhile longer.”

Lynch said, “It’s really meant for the low-income families to help them with real basic expenses, not the person who’s looking to upgrade their appliances.”

The purpose, he thought, is to get energy consumption down, said Purnell.

The state of Maryland will soon be offering a rebate on energy-efficient appliances, Carson said.

Those rebates will be taken at the point of sale, not offered after installation, Purnell said.

“Our program will complement their program nicely,” said deputy town administrator Bohlen. 

Mayor Gee Williams suggested waiting at least a year to evaluate use of the energy improvement credit program and to see how much funding is used, before seriously considering changes to the initiative.

“I know I do most of my home improvements when the weather is nice … I don’t think it’s been given enough time. There’s probably not enough awareness,” said Williams.