Georgia Power Fills the Void Left by ENERGY STAR

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georgia power earthcents hers index billboard 500

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.'

 

EarthCents Resources

Georgia Power's EarthCents new homes page

Georgia Power's EarthCents new homes details

Alabama Power EarthCents page

Gulf Power EarthCents page (Same name, but I can't tell if their program works the same way.)

 

Related Articles

The Groundbreaking New Georgia State Energy Code

More Energy Saving Dogs from Georgia Power

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about the HERS Index

Comments

Darrel Tenter

Good to hear about a program like this. Market awareness has always been a big issue for RESNET and the HERS Index. 
 
Regarding the "void left by ENERGY STAR", what do you think caused that in Georgia? Maybe you've written another post about that but I missed it. I ask because my discussions with folks here in Montana indicate ENERGY STAR has been dropped by most builders since V3. I've been told they consider the requirements of V3 to be too burdensome.

Skye Dunning

Part of it is that the code changed so significantly that E-Star had to change significantly as well. But unfortunately it's much more than that.  
 
The biggest mistake, IMO, and one of the biggest challenges, was the certification requirements for the HVAC contractors. Getting certified with ACCA was the only option at the beginning, and was prohibitively expensive for small contractors (the quality ones we have been working with for years). It got better with Advanced Energy's entry as the 2nd H-QUITO in the country, giving the HVAC contractors a lower cost option. 
 
Along with that certification came a huge (relative to the past anyway) HVAC checklist for the rater and HVAC contractor. That list was a big jump for HVAC contractors, and for most raters, which resulted in quite a bit of resistance and rise in costs. 
 
There are the technical issues with HVAC which have been there from the beginning. Raters are supposed to check the load calculations but training was never incorporated for doing so, and the required checks were a joke. At first it was checking the design temps and house tightness. Those two items don't factor large in HVAC loads. Only an idiot or a person completely ignorant of the issues they are writing the program standards for would do that. The lack of training and the false appearance of the rater actually checking the load calcs put raters in the legal cross hairs. I wrote a letter with David Butler at the time warning of this issue and others. Nothing was done. As I predicted, raters (according to Energy Star) were "linked to homeowner litigation" over the "Right Sizing" rule. E-Stars response was to send out a disclaimer which stated that "engineered sizing calculations have been performed to match the cooling system capacity with the load requirements of your home". Apparently they thought that raters claiming to be engineers, or claiming to be doing engineering work, was the logical answer to that problem. So the load calculation checks were increased twice since then. You would think that, with all of the HVAC requirements now in place, really checking the load calcs, and raters getting trained on load calcs, would be in place, right? Wrong. There are more checks, but the most notable deficiencies are that raters are supposed to check the window area and window values, but not the window overhangs, and duct location is not checked. Again, any jackass that has ever done a load calc, or even knows how they work, understands that you can't have an accurate load calc without doing the window overhangs. It's one of the biggest drivers of heat gain. It's even worse now because it has even more of an appearance that the load calcs are being verified when they are not. And it turns out that ducts and equipment located in a 140 deg. attic vs. having them inside makes quite a difference. Who knew? 
 
Then there is duct sealing. The numbers keep getting tighter. That's great, but they still allow tape to seal the ducts! Again, anyone with the most basic building science knowledge understands that tape fails, and that ducts should be sealed with water-based mastic. So are we testing ducts to find out how much they leak today, or how much they are going to leak in the foreseeable future? I actually finally got an answer from Sam Rashkin on this issue at the RESNET conference a couple of years ago, as V3 was rolling out. He said there was no data showing that tape fails! Besides the fact that tape failure is an obvious problem to anyone who actually does this work for a living instead of righting rules that they apparently aren't qualified to administer, I guess they never heard of the testing that Lawrence Berkley National Labs did years ago. Different part of the government & all that. Iain Walker, one of the scientists in the study, said, “...in our lab tests we have found that the UL 181 products fail. Just because it is UL 181 listed does not mean that it performs any better than non-UL 181 listed products” 
 
They did release documentation with version 3 that was quite good...mostly. The thing is, there are pictures missing from the guide books. There are a bunch of them. One of them is for a wall with incorrect framing! Seriously, how could they not have that picture? Answer, none of them actually do this for a living. There is a box where it should be that says, "Need picture of incorrect framing". I wouldn't put something that inadequate out of my own office. It's just embarrassing. Or apparently it's not embarrassing enough, but it should be. 
 
Sorry Allison, really standing on my soap box hear but I can't help it when it comes to the topic of what's wrong with Energy Star. And I'm usually not so mean but it really is incredible that the largest building performance program in the country continually shows such a fundamental lack of awareness of basic building science principals. And where is RESNET on these issues? They are supposed to be advocating for raters. There are legal issues here for raters that remain unresolved. And there is a new one with advanced framing issues. 
 
So the point of all this, as it pertains to this article, is that many raters are not so enamored with this program either, which doesn't help things. 
 
The other big hurdle for builders was the requirement for reduced thermal bridging and raised heel trusses.  
 
This, by the way, is the latest in putting raters on the spot without the proper training or support. We are now in the position of making judgments on how much framing is too much, and it's not always clear. I was recently challenged by an engineer as to how we could do any advanced framing in a high wind zone. So I went looking for supporting documentation, examples, case studies, something that I was naive enough to think Energy Star would have. Surprise! I found nothing for those of us working in seismic and high wind areas. Raters all over are having builders remove framing with only the barest understanding of the implications. How long before there are problems and the finger is pointed at the raters? Whether the actual issue is related to advanced framing or not, they will be getting blamed and, once again, I don't see any kind of support.

Allison Bailes

Skye D.: Wow! That program does look great. For those who want to find out more about it, here's the clickable version of the link: 
 
Duke Energy Progress new homes incentives 
 
As for your second comment, you did a great job of going into some of the main problems with ES V3. No need to apologize. The folks at ENERGY STAR seem oblivious to the needs of builders and raters, and I've been telling them similar things since at least 2010. 
 
Darrel T.: I haven't written much about ES V3 lately, but earlier I did. They went too far with the program, especially with the HVAC component. Skye's comment lays it out really well. In our HERS providership, we went from about 80% of our ratings being for ENERGY STAR homes to about 20%. Even that number is inflated, however, because only about 10% were for Version 3, as we still had some Version 2 stragglers coming in earlier in the year. 
 
Curt K.: Yep. See Skye's second comment above. 
 

David Butler

Wow, Skye. You really nailed it. What I find fascinating is that the ESv3 "onerous" HVAC checklists only asks contractors to follow their own industry's widely recognized (but rarely followed) design procedures.  
 
BTW, the article Skye mentioned was a joint letter-to-the-editor that appeared in Nov 2006 Home Energy. Sam's response was essentially a shrug.

Sam

@Skye D 
 
Advanced framing (24 in o.c., stacked rafter/ceiing joist, single top with steel plate at tranisition) is prescriptively allowed in California, single story. Can't remeber if you just need to bump up to 2x6 for a 2 story. Apparently someone has done the seismic and wind work on it because the CBC is very risk adverse with seismic issues.

David Butler

Hey Sam, thanks for the info on advanced framing in California. 
 
you wrote: "Can't remeber if you just need to bump up to 2x6 for a 2 story." 
 
The implication of your question is that 2x4 advanced framing (24-oc) is allowed for single story. If so, I wasn't aware of this. Please confirm or clarify.

Ryan Shanahan

We might have the best utility incentive programs in the country. Energy Trust of Oregon (covers 80% of the state or more) offers builders $600 - $4000 for energy conservation currently. The cap is moving up to $5,000 next year. They also offer additional incentives to the builder for solar pv ready / solar thermal ready. Installed solar systems get incentivized as well but the money goes to the solar contractor. Many of our builder clients like the idea of "getting paid to do this stuff before it becomes code anyway"