WASHINGTON, DC, October 19, 2009 (ENS) – The emergence of a home retrofit market that would increase energy efficiency and cut home energy bills has been hampered by lack of access to reliable information, financing and skilled workers, finds a new report released today by Vice President Joe Biden.

The report, “Recovery Through Retrofit,” is intended to build on the foundation laid in the Recovery Act to expand green job opportunities and boost energy savings by making homes more energy efficient, the vice president said.

“‘Recovery Through Retrofit’ is a blueprint that will create good green jobs – jobs that can’t be outsourced, and jobs that will be the cornerstones of a 21st-Century economy,” said Biden. “And, thanks to the Recovery Act’s unprecedented investments in energy efficiency, we are making it easier for American families to retrofit their homes – helping them save money while reducing carbon emissions and creating a healthier environment for our families.”

At a Middle Class Task Force meeting earlier this year, the vice president asked the White House Council on Environmental Quality to develop a proposal for federal action to lay the groundwork for a self-sustaining home energy efficiency retrofit industry.

In response, the Council set in motion an interagency process with the Office of the Vice President, six other White House Offices and 11 departments and agencies to develop recommendations for how to use existing authority and funding to accomplish this goal. These recommendations are detailed in the report.

Joining the vice president today were Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality; Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy; Hilda Solis, Secretary of Labor; Shaun Donovan, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development; and Karen Mills, Administrator of the Small Business Administration.

An old-fashioned house in Boulder, Colorado is retrofitted with a two kilowatt grid-tied solar electric system. April 2008. (Photo courtesy Namaste Solar Electric)

Secretary Donovan said the recommendations in the “Recovery through Retrofit” report, “will allow us to work closely together to remove barriers to creating more energy efficient homes for American families. This initiative will not only lead to cost savings for homeowners and reduce negative environmental impact, but will also be a powerful vehicle for economic recovery by creating quality middle class jobs and lasting neighborhood benefits.”

Existing techniques and technologies in energy efficiency retrofitting can reduce energy use by up to 40 percent per home and lower total associated greenhouse gas emissions by up to 160 million metric tons annually, according to the report.

Retrofitting existing homes also has the potential to cut home energy bills by $21 billion annually.

To help ensure that the energy efficiency market will thrive long after the Recovery Act money is fully spent, the report recommends that the government provide American homeowners with straightforward and reliable home energy retrofit information, including a reliable benchmark of energy efficiency and sound estimates of the costs and benefits of home energy retrofits.

Access to retrofit financing should be more transparent, more accessible, repayable over a longer time period, and more consumer-friendly, the report recommends.

A uniform set of national standards to qualify energy efficiency and retrofit workers as well as industry training providers is needed to establish the foundation of consumer confidence that work will be completed correctly and produce the expected energy savings and benefits, the report advises.

The Department of Energy today also announced $454 million in Recovery Act financing for home retrofits and energy efficiency.

Stimulus funds amounting to $390 million will go to the new “Retrofit Ramp-Up” initiative, intended to help create partnerships to deliver energy bill savings to entire neighborhoods and towns.

“The Retrofit Ramp-Up initiative is designed to slice through the barriers identified in this report – inconvenience, lack of information, and lack of financing – and to make energy efficiency easy and accessible to all,” said Secretary Chu.

“We want to make our communities more energy efficient, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, eventually expanding to entire cities and states,” Chu said. “We can literally bring energy efficiency to the doorsteps of the American people.”

Bringing energy retrofits to whole neighborhoods at a time will simplify the process for homeowners and reduce costs, he said. When applied on a national scale, the program could save billions of dollars annually in utility bills for households and businesses and create thousands of jobs across the country.

In addition, the Energy Department announced $64 million in energy efficiency funding for cities, counties, and Indian tribes.

Separately, the Energy Department will accept state proposals to use State Energy Grant or Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grant funds for Property Assessed Clean Energy, PACE, pilots.

This innovative model allows communities to provide financing to homeowners to install renewable energy systems and retrofit buildings that can be paid off over time on their property tax bills.

Today, the White House is announcing a “Policy Framework for PACE Financing Programs” developed through an interagency process to ensure that effective homeowner and lender safeguards are included in PACE programs.

To ensure implementation of the “Recovery Through Retrofit” report’s recommendations, the Council on Environmental Quality will continue to convene an interagency Energy Retrofit Working Group co-chaired by the departments of energy, housing, labor, agriculture and the U.S. EPA,

The working group will track the progress of the report’s recommendations, develop more strategies to support expansion of the retrofit market, including recommendations for rental housing, and operate as the single point of contact for the implementation of this effort.

Within 30 days, the group will submit an implementation plan to the vice president and report to him regularly on its progress toward implementing each of the recommendations identified in the report.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.