TVA Helps Homeowners With New Program

TVA and KUB partner on a new home evaluation service, Energy Right

If you are seeking utility bill savings or are environmentally inclined to make your house more energy efficient, you should take advantage of a new program on which TVA and KUB are partnering.

The program, called Energy Right, starts with getting an in-home energy evaluation by a TVA-certified evaluator. The evaluation can be easily arranged by calling 866-441-1430. I know because I got one within 48 hours after calling, and I was mightily impressed with the knowledgeability and thoroughness of my evaluator, Bruce Glanville.

Glanville spent an hour and a half going over my 1930s-vintage house with a proverbial fine-tooth comb. Seemingly, no hole or crack in the building, window and door frames, or duct work went undetected. My heating and air conditioning systems were carefully evaluated, and a crawl-through in my semi-finished attic brought out defects in its insulation.

Glanville then spent another half-hour generating a written report of his findings, recommended improvements, their estimated cost, and projected energy savings. Bottom line, for a house that he found to be structurally very sound, his primary recommendations were $2,000 worth of additional attic insulation and $250 for sealing ducts and vents which he reckoned would yield me 17 percent in annual energy savings. He also noted that the exterior compressor on my air conditioning system could stand replacement but probably hasn't deteriorated to the point that would justify the $5,000 cost.

For the privilege of being told I ought to spend $2,250, I was charged $150 for the evaluation. And you may say you're not looking to incur that kind of cost right now. But wait: Both TVA reimbursements and federal tax credits are available to cover a good part of them.

For your first $150 of qualified improvements, as certified by a TVA-approved contractor, you get your evaluation fee back. Over and above that, TVA will pay for half of the next $1,000 that you spend within 90 days on an existing residence. Beyond that, federal income tax credits will cover 30 percent of the cost of a fairly lengthy list of energy efficiency improvements incurred during 2009 or 2010—up to a maximum of a $1,500 credit.

Duct sealing isn't on that list, so in my case only the $2,000 for added insulation would qualify for the tax credit—assuming it meets a federal standard. So my total out-of-pocket cost for all the recommended work would only be $250. My monthly KUB electric and gas bill over the course of a year averages close to that. So at $3,000 annually, a 17 percent saving would amount to $510, which more than covers my cost before giving any weight to the environmental benefit of some reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from TVA power plants.

So why is TVA prepared to shell out what could be megabucks if a substantial number of the 3.9 million residential customers served by its power distributors take its offer? The answer starts with a TVA energy conservation goal of achieving 1,400 megawatts in electric power load reductions by 2012. That's equivalent to the generating capacity of a new nuclear power unit that would cost billions to build.

At the same time, TVA is facing prospective federal requirements for producing 20 percent of its power by 2020 from renewable resources such as solar, wind, and biomass. These were included in the multi-faceted climate bill that the House approved last month, which could get bogged down in the Senate over its so-called cap and trade provisions governing carbon emission. However, its renewable requirements, while difficult to meet, are much less controversial in part because they allow power producers to satisfy 25 percent of them with "electricity savings relative to business-as-usual practices through efficiency measures."

What's less than clear is how these savings would be measured, and a TVA official reckons it will take an elaborate federal rule-making process to establish their parameters. It's also unclear at this point how TVA will aggregate savings resulting from its Energy Right program for which no verification or compilation system is yet in place.

What is clear, however, is that concerns about global warming and rising costs are driving pervasive efforts to clamp down on energy consumption. Close to $100 million in federal stimulus dollars have been allocated to Tennessee for weatherization outlays of up to $6,500 per household with incomes of less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line. The state's recently enacted Clean Energy Future Act includes provisions for making both state buildings and its vehicle fleet more energy efficient. Both the City of Knoxville and Knox County have recently completed energy audits aimed at achieving significant savings on their parts.

And every household has a role to play, whether via participation in the Energy Right program or by taking such simple steps as using energy efficient light bulbs, turning off all electrical appliances when they're not in use, rethinking thermostat settings, and the list goes on and on.