Home Star passes House, moves to Senate

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Home Star Energy Retrofit Act, H.R. 5019, sponsored by Representative Peter Welch (D-VT.), Thursday, May 6. The bill was sent to the Senate and referred to the Committee on Finance the following day. Its companion bill, S.B. 3177, sponsored by Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) was referred to the Committee on Finance March 25, 2010, and a revised version, S.B. 3434, was introduced in the Senate May 27, 2010, which is now being examined by the Administration, the Senate leadership and the Senate Finance Committee. If signed into law, the bill will provide incentives to consumers to make their homes more energy efficient.

According to the White House website, Home Star, if passed, would provide two types of consumer incentives — the Silver Star Rebate and the Gold Star Rebate. The Silver Star rebate consists of up to 50% rebates up to $1,000-$1,500 for upgrades, such as water heaters, HVAC units, insulation, duct sealing, windows and doors, roofing and air sealing. Consumers could do a combination of upgrades for rebates up to a maximum of $3,000 per home, and rebates would be limited to the most energy-efficient categories of upgrades, focusing on products made primarily in the U.S. and installed by certified contractors.

The Gold Star Rebate would allow consumers interested in comprehensive energy retrofits to be eligible for a $3,000 rebate for a whole home energy audit and subsequent retrofit tailored to achieve a 20% energy savings. Consumers could receive additional rebate amounts for energy savings in excess of 20%.

“The Home Star Energy Retrofit Act is a common sense bill that will create jobs, save consumers money, and strengthen our economy,” said President Barack Obama in a statement regarding the House passage of the legislation.

“At a time when millions of Americans are looking for work and companies are ready to take on new customers, this legislation will help jumpstart job growth and demand for new products created right here in America,” added Obama. “This rebate program will not only put people back to work, it will lower costs for homeowners who choose to improve their home with products like energy efficient windows, water heaters and air conditioners. And it will also save consumers money on energy bills down the road.”

The Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) supports President Obama's call for Congress to enact legislation to encourage consumers to purchase and install energy-efficient HVAC and water heating equipment.

"We are thrilled to have the solid backing of the White House in this effort," said David Calabrese, AHRI senior vice president for policy. "For several years, AHRI has been working with Congress to enact incentives to help replace the nation's installed base of heating, cooling, and water heating equipment. This program would go a long way toward making that goal a reality."

The Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) was unable to endorse the House version proposed $6 billion Home Star energy retrofit rebate legislation. Among the organization's concerns was the structure of the rebate program itself, which would require contractors to essentially float loans worth thousands of dollars per job, and hope for timely payment from a government-designated rebate aggregator.

"The structure of the rebate program discriminates against small businesses that are otherwise very capable of meeting the program requirements," the association said.

In a victory for ACCA, the House passed the bill with a last-minute amendment, stating that program rebates should be paid to the homeowner, not the contractor.

"We salute the House for recognizing that this proposed rebate program cannot succeed if it requires contractors to become bankers," said Paul T. Stalknecht, ACCA president and CEO. "The small, community-based businesses that provide the overwhelming majority of jobs in the environmental services sector must have a full and equal opportunity for participation, or else this proposal will not achieve its goals.

"Now the legislation moves to the Senate, where we hope a majority of Senators recognize the importance of ensuring a level playing field in the green economy," added Stalknecht.

The House legislation did not address all of ACCA's concerns. The association cannot support the accreditation portion of the Gold Star section of the legislation. Gold Star would offer rebates of up to $8,000 per house, but require contractors to be accredited by the Building Performance Institute (BPI), a national standards development and contractor credentialing organization for residential energy efficiency retrofit work. Ninety-two percent of BPI's accreditations are currently issued in only two states, New York and New Jersey.

"The legislation did include an amendment that would require the Department of Energy to approve or deny proposed alternatives to BPI within 30 days," Stalknecht said, "but we do not find this to be an acceptable alternative. However, ACCA remains very supportive of the goals of the Home Star legislation, and as the legislation moves to the Senate, we will continue to make a good faith effort to find a real solution that will actually meet those goals and create good, high-paying jobs while improving the energy efficiency and security of the United States."

After H.R. 5019 passed the House, approximately 100 contractors, mostly installers from a variety of specialties, who are members of the home energy retrofit trade association Efficiency First, met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, May 20-21, to discuss the critical need for the Home Star Energy Retrofit legislation. The contractors also met with Senators and their staff to encourage rapid advancement of the House bill’s counterpart, S.B. 3177.

“The innovative Home Star program will turn around an industry where one in four construction workers are unemployed and manufacturing is at 62% of capacity," said Mike Rogers, chair of Efficiency First and senior vice president, market development, GreenHomes America. "In fact, Home Star is expected to create 168,000 high-quality building jobs over the next two years, while also helping homeowners save money on their energy bills.

“The passage of Home Star in the House was a mixed blessing," added Rogers. "Now that Americans are aware of the Home Star legislation, many are delaying their retrofit plans in hopes of federal support. Ironically, while Home Star is in process, it is having a negative impact on the very industry that it is designed to help."