California Energy Upgrade Incentives

California Energy Upgrade Incentives

Posted on 26. Apr, 2011 by in Rebates and Incentives

Recently, Green Compliance Plus was contacted by Jeffery Liang of Ecology Action, a nonprofit group engaged to promote information to the public about the rebates and incentives available through Energy Upgrade CA. Here’s the result of our conversation.

What is Energy Upgrade CA?

It’s a statewide incentive program for California homeowners that offers rebates for overall energy improvements. In the past, utilities like PG&E have offered rebates for single measures, like a furnace upgrade. However, this is a bit like going to the doctor and getting a cure without first getting an overall diagnosis. This program attempts to rectify this piecemeal approach by encouraging homeowners to start with a complete home energy audit in order to understand where the biggest shortfalls really are within their particular home.

The way it works is the homeowner selects a qualified contractor (see below), who performs the initial energy audit, physically installs the energy upgrades, and then submits the rebate paperwork to the utility company on behalf of the homeowner.

Who sponsors Energy Upgrade CA?

The funding comes from the Public Good surcharge on your utility bill. It’s sponsored by the State of California.

Who’s eligible for an Energy Upgrade CA rebate?

Any California homeowner who is a customer of one of the public utility companies like PG&E or SoCal Edison. There are a few exclusions for localities like the City of Palo Alto, which has its own utility company, and rural areas where the residents depend on propane and/or self-generated electricity, and don’t interact with public utility companies at all.

How long does it take?

Officially, Energy Upgrade CA rebates take 4 to 6 weeks, but it could be quicker.

Who must be selected to do the work?

Any licensed contractor with an energy analyst on staff who’s certified through the Building Performance Institute can conduct the home energy audit and perform the physical installations for energy improvements. The BPI Building Analyst must also take an additional workshop on the rebate submittal process.

Energy Upgrade CA requires that the energy audit and upgrades be performed by a contractor certified by the Building Performance Institute.

How are energy savings measured exactly? Using an energy modeling program?

Before and after energy use is measured using an energy modeling program that has been approved by the California Energy Center specifically for this purpose. It’s up to the contractor which of these they want to use. Certified modelers include Energy Pro, Recurve, or TREAT. (Energy Pro is also CEC-approved for demonstrating Title 24 energy compliance – but that’s a separate thing.)

I had an upgrade to my home last year that exceeded Title 24 by 30%. Can I apply for a rebate now?

It may be possible in some locales, but not all. Generally the home needs to be energy-modeled in its “before” and “after” states. There may be exceptions such as Alameda County, which has a Green Labeling mandate using GreenPoint Rating for Existing Homes. So, if you’re in Alameda County, you can get your home GreenPoint Rated and that might help you qualify. It’s also dependent on the program’s start date – so, unfortunately, a lot of energy retrofits can’t be grandfathered in to this rebate.

How are the Energy Upgrade California rebate levels structured?

There are two tiers, one basic and one advanced. Tier 1 requires a package of 7 required measures, is expected to yield an average of 10% energy savings, and in return nets a $1,000 rebate. The Tier 1 measures include air sealing, attic insulation, duct sealing, hot water pipe insulation, low-flow showerheads, smoke alarms, and CO detectors, and “combustion safety testing” [I forgot to ask Jeffery what this last one is.]

Tier 2 is everything in Tier 2 plus any further measure that boosts the projected energy savings up to 15-40%. The rebate is based on the energy savings as demonstrated by before and after energy modeling, so a 15% saving would qualify for a $1500 rebate, and a 30% energy reduction would qualify for $3000.

Are the Tier 1 measures the same as HERS tests?

Yes, pretty much. Air sealing is measured by the blower door test, duct sealing uses the duct blaster test, etc. It’s a BPI-certified analyst that does the energy analysis, though, not a HERS rater, although many of these analysts do have dual credentials.

How much does it actually cost to do all these measures? It’s got to be a lot more than $1000.

It depends on the size of the home, when it was originally built, and also on the contractor selected. Each contractor is responsible for their own bidding. One ballpark figure is to say that the upgrades for typical modest home of around 2000 SF might run around $5000, including the energy modeling and the actual installations.

Note, however, that individual localities may have incentives of their own for these same upgrades that are awarded on top of the statewide incentive. To look up incentives available in your locality, visit the Energy Upgrade CA web site.

One such local incentive program in San Francisco is called SFHip. It’s the same process as the statewide one, same contractor qualifications, so the homeowner can have the work done once and then apply to both programs. SFHip is funded by Federal stimulus dollars, but is locally administered. The only thing the contractor has to do to additionally qualify for SFHip is sign an agreement and take a workshop on how to do the SFHip paperwork.

Because locality is important, it might be a good idea to work with a contractor within your local area who’s familiar with the local incentive programs.

Where can I get more information?

Visit Energy Upgrade CA for the statewide program. One program that isn’t listed on that website is the CHF Loan program that offers 3% loans over 15 years for households making less than 160% of AMI as well as $1,250 grant for improvements. San Francisco doesn’t qualify but Alameda and Contra Costa County does. There’s more loan information here:


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