Act quickly to take advantage of energy-efficiency programs

Oncor's energy efficiency incentives, which can help pay for energy upgrades for your house, are back again -- but are going fast.

This year, about $27 million is available in five programs for homeowners, on par with last year's funding, Oncor spokeswoman Jeamy Molina said.

So if you need more insulation in the attic, ductwork sealed, an energy audit or other home energy efficiency measures, check out this program and see whether you can get some money.

But hurry. Once the money is gone, the programs will end until next year, said Barbara Yager, vice president with Energy Misers of Mansfield, one of more than 200 local contractors signed up with the program.

"I don't see the money lasting very long," she said. "It's going to go so fast."

Funding is available for Oncor's home energy efficiency program and residential audit program, Molina said. The low-income weatherization program will start in June, and the start date for the home performance with Energy Star products incentive program is being scheduled.

Oncor's solar program, which provides money to help offset the cost of installing a solar photovoltaic system, has been so popular it is sold out for the year, but homeowners can get on a waiting list for future funding, Molina said.

"People who were able to get the incentives this year for solar were on a wait list in previous years," she said. "We are looking into seeing if there is the possibility of keeping this program going this year because it is so popular, but there's no guarantee."

The efficiency programs, which were mandated by the Texas Legislature, are funded by a small monthly fee built into wholesale electric rates statewide. Started in 2002, the Oncor program has helped 342,306 customers and saved enough energy to run 50,481 homes for a year, Molina said.

I used Oncor's home energy efficiency program a few years ago and had insulation added to my attic for about a third of the cost that a leading retailer was advertising then.

Michael Lang, owner of A&O Solutions in Arlington, a participating company in the program, said incentives from Oncor are determined by the needs of the house and vary considerably. But they do lower the price for his clients.

"We recently added insulation to a home in Arlington through the program, and the owner told us he ended up paying less than what the materials cost if he had done it himself," Lang said.

All-electric houses will get higher incentives than those that use gas for heating, said Steve McCrann, owner of A Better Insulation in Arlington, who plans to work on a couple of hundred homes this year using the program. Older homes that may have little or no insulation will get more incentive money passed to them in order to get up to the recommended R30 value, which is around 12 inches of insulation, he said.

The three contractors I contacted all said they pass on all of the Oncor incentive money to their customers, although by law they do not have to. Customers should ask upfront whether the incentive money gets passed on to them in a lower bill for their services.

The energy efficiency programs, which also include incentives for commercial buildings, were sparked by the Legislature's desire for electricity distributors to lower demand on the electric grid. The current mandate is for utilities to offset 20 percent of their growth in electricity by energy efficiency measures

The programs statewide have been successful, with the actual demand reduction more than double the goal for 2010, according to the latest figures from the Public Utility Commission.

Teresa McUsic's column appears Saturdays.