Georgia Power Fills the Void Left by ENERGY STAR
The EarthCents program for new homes is a child of ENERGY STAR Version 3. The previous version of the ENERGY STAR new homes program was an entry level energy efficiency program; Version 3 is not. Early in the transition, I spoke with someone from Georgia Power, which had been giving home builders a $300 rebate if they qualified their homes for the ENERGY STAR label, and he told me they were considering sticking with Version 2. They changed their minds later, however, and EarthCents was their answer.
$2500 for a net zero energy home!
What Georgia Power came up with was a simple program based only on a home achieving a HERS Index of 77. They did some calculations and found that that number represented about a 15% improvement over the current version of the Georgia energy code (which was perhaps the best in the country when it was adopted in 2011). The requirements are minimal:
- Electric heating and water heating systems required
- Home in Georgia Power's service area
- Must achieve HERS Index of 77 or lower
There's no requirement for blower door or duct leakage testing, which is fine because the state energy code already requires builders to meet minimum thresholds for enclosure-tightness and duct-sealing. One thing I'm hoping they'll add, though, is a requirement for a predrywall inspection. That was one of best parts of ENERGY STAR Version 2.
Starting with meters set in 2014, the incentives get even better than they are now. In addition to the $600 for hitting a HERS Index of 77 for single-family homes ($300 for multi-family), the builder will get $25 ($12.50 for multi-family) for each point below 77.
- $775 for a HERS Index of 70
- $1275 for a HERS Index of 50
- $2525 for a HERS Index of 0
That's a nice little bonus for doing better than the minimum! You get even more for installing heat pumps, heat pump water heaters, or solar water heaters. (They are an electric utility, you know.)
Billboards and radio spots and web ads, oh my!
Georgia Power is putting some serious dollars behind marketing this program, too. They brought a group of HERS raters and providers to Savannah last week for a meeting to discuss the program and showed us all they're doing. Of course, I already knew about some of it because I've been seeing the EarthCents billboards around Georgia for months now. (The image at the top of this article is one of them.)
They're also doing radio spots, newspaper ads, website banners, videos, consumer brochures, and more. (Check out their marketing page to get all the details.) They're also helping home builders and HERS raters with magnetic signs for vehicles, yard signs, and model home kits.
One of the best things they're doing is educating home buyers about the HERS Index. Their market research showed little to no understanding of what that term means, so they've set out to change that. Below is a one minute video to help explain it:
And here's one that's a bit longer, at three and a half minutes.
Kudos to Georgia Power for doing this! And kudos to the Southern Company, Georgia Power's parent company, for spreading EarthCents to their other electric utilities in the region, Alabama Power and Gulf Power (see links below). This restructuring of their rebates in Georgia is a result of the new Integrated Resource Plan they just had approved by the Georgia Public Service Commission, and I think it's a great program that will help more homes in the state be more than just 'barely legal.'
Gulf Power EarthCents page (Same name, but I can't tell if their program works the same way.)