Oncor wants you to replace your home air conditioner and add solar panels -- and it's offering cash incentives to help do it.This year, about $31 million will go to the utility's popular energy-efficiency programs for homeowners, an increase of $4 million over last year, said Jeamy Molina of Oncor Electric Delivery, which operates most of the poles and wires that distribute power in North Texas.Among the major changes in the program, which started in 2002, is a dramatic increase in funding for residential solar. It jumps from $1.5 million last year to $7 million.For years, homeowners couldn't get into the program unless they were on the waiting list from the prior year or even earlier.But this year is different."We have a ton of money left in the program," Molina said. "We've only had a handful of customers since the program started Dec. 19."The incentive payment is based on how many watts a photovoltaic solar installation can generate, but it lowers the cost significantly, especially when combined with the 30 percent federal tax credit, said D.J. Douglas, CEO of AffordaSolar in Fort Worth, a service provider in the Oncor program."Based on an average of a 5-kilowatt solar system, between 1,000 and 1,200 homes could take advantage of Oncor's solar program this year," Douglas said. "And with the incentive and tax credit, their return on investment should be two to five years."Oncor also has a cash incentive to replace old, inefficient air conditioners under its weatherization program, Molina said. Other money goes toward insulation, caulking and weatherstripping.Homeowners can receive 10 to 20 percent off the cost of an air conditioner or heat pump, Molina said, depending on the system it replaces and the efficiency of the new system. A SEER (efficiency) rating of at least 16 is required.The air conditioner incentive should prove attractive, said Chris Runyon, owner of A Cooler House in Garland, a contractor listed in the Oncor HVAC program."The rebate is between $500 and $1,000, depending on the size," he said. "For a 1-ton system, it's lower. For a 5-ton system, it's higher."Combine that incentive with today's $500 federal tax credit, dealer discounts and off-season company discounts, and overall replacement costs are attractive, Runyon said."In summer, our phone is ringing off the hook," he said. "But it's slow now. Our prices are better because I want to keep my crews working."The Oncor incentive -- funded through a small fee on everyone's monthly electric bill -- is actually paid to the contractor doing the work. Typically, that money is passed onto the consumer.Contractors file all the necessary paperwork with the utility, Runyon said. "The only paperwork to the homeowner," he said, is saving the receipt to claim the tax credit, he said.The incentives from Oncor are determined by the energy needs of the house and the savings generated by an equipment upgrade or a weatherization measure, said Brian Palmer, owner of USA's Green Shield in Fort Worth, another Oncor contractor.All-electric houses get higher incentives than those using gas for heating because incentives are based on electricity use.Older homes with little or no insulation get more incentive money to reach the recommended R30 value, around 12 inches of insulation.Palmer said money for the program always goes fast, so consumers should jump on the opportunity."The early bird gets the worm with this program," he said.Since the Legislature mandated the statewide efficiency program in 2002, more than 680,000 customers have participated in one of Oncor's programs, Molina said.Other utilities have similar programs, but Oncor's has been the largest, with more than $472 million spent.The utility estimates that efficiency programs have cut more than 1,038 megawatts of peak demand -- the equivalent of several good-size power plants -- and saved around 2.4 million megawatt-hours of energy usage.A megawatt is 1 million watts; a kilowatt is 1,000 watts. A typical Texas home averages about 1,500 kilowatt-hours a month.Combined with its commercial energy-efficiency initiative, Oncor will provide about $54 million in energy-efficiency programs this year, Molina said.The low-income weatherization program, designed as a no-cost program for income-qualified homeowners, starts in June.For more information and a list of area contractors, go to www.TakeALoadOffTexas.comTeresa McUsic's column appears Saturdays. TMcUsic@SavvyConsumer.net
Oncor's 2013 energy-efficiency programs
Home weatherization: $10.5 million. Approved contractors seal ducts, weatherstrip doors, add insulation, and install air conditioners or heat pumps, Energy Star windows and appliances. Federal tax credit up to $500.
Solar photovoltaic: $7 million. Can offset about 25 percent of the cost. Federal tax credit of 30 percent of net cost.
Residential low-income weatherization program: $6.3 million. Same as weatherization program but free to households at or below 200 percent of the poverty line -- $22,980 for an individual, $47,100 for a family of four.
Sources: Oncor, www.TakeALoadOffTexas.com
Go to www.TakeALoadOffTexas.com or call 866-728-3674 for information and a list of area contractors by ZIP code in Oncor's service territory.
Contact at least three contractors for bids. Contractors are not required to pass incentive payments on to customers, but most do. Find out if there is a fee to evaluate the home.
Check contractors' records with the Better Business Bureau.
Source: Oncor Electric Delivery