Teresa McUsic

Funding cut for Oncor’s energy-efficiency incentives

Under its energy efficiency incentive programs, Oncor pays for all or part of installing insulation and improving weatherization of area homes.
Under its energy efficiency incentive programs, Oncor pays for all or part of installing insulation and improving weatherization of area homes. Star-Telegram

Oncor started its annual home energy-efficiency incentive program this week, but with $2.6 million less in funding.

The utility’s solar and low-income weatherization programs have also seen cuts, according to Jamie Molina, spokeswoman for Oncor Electric Delivery, which is majority-owned by bankrupt Energy Future Holdings in Dallas. In total, more than $5 million has been dropped from the popular programs.

“The overall energy-efficiency budget was reduced this year in an effort to minimize financial impacts to ratepayers,” Molina said. “Program plans and budgets are made a year in advance, at which time we often do not know all the mandated costs that also have to be included. For 2015, we reduced budgets to compensate for these unknown costs and to ensure that we comply with cost caps put in place per the Energy Efficiency Rule.”

Funding for the home efficiency incentive program, which helps reduce the cost for homeowners who add insulation, buy 16-SEER air conditioners or take other energy-reducing measures, dropped from $12.6 million last year to $10 million this year.

The weatherization program, which pays for similar measures in low-income households, saw a slight dip in funding, from $6.3 million to $6 million.

The solar residential program, which provided about a quarter of the cost of a solar array and installation on homes, saw the biggest decline, from $5.3 million to $3 million.

“The solar program was started in November 2014 and was sold out in less than a minute,” Molina said. She recommends waiting until the fall and contacting the contractors involved before the utility re-funds the program.

All three programs work through third-party contractors that are listed on Oncor’s website, www.TakeALoadOffTexas.com.

This is the first year that Jason Lemons, president of Quality Home Comfort in Fort Worth, has participated in the program, but he said he has worked with similar incentives in Louisiana and Arkansas.

“The idea is it’s beneficial to everyone,” he said. “The utility doesn’t have to build more power plants, it keeps local contractors busy, and the homeowner saves on making his home more efficient.”

All three programs, along with similar efficiency efforts for commercial properties, are part of a requirement from the Legislature for all 10 Texas utilities to help homeowners and businesses with energy efficiency. It is funded by consumers, costing homeowners in North Texas around $1 a month extra on their electric bills.

Since the program began in 2002, around 700,000 households in Oncor’s service area have used at least one of the programs, Molina said.

In the home efficiency program, a contractor will perform a door-blower and duct-blaster test to figure out how much air is being lost. Based on the results, the contractor will recommend steps like adding insulation and weatherstripping around windows and doors.

All-electric homes get the biggest cash incentive for such upgrades because the difference after the efficiency measures is greater than with gas-heated homes. The more energy savings, the bigger the offset to the cost of the work.

But by law, contractors do not have to pass on all the savings and can instead use it for training and other improvements to their businesses. So ask several contractors and get their bids on paper.

Terry Maggard, owner of Lone Star Insulation in Weatherford, has been in the Oncor program for four years and expects another influx of callers.

“We got calls before it even opened,” he said. “We’ve already got a few jobs to do and are looking forward to a great season.”

While the program also includes incentives for Energy Star appliances like washers and dryers, refrigerators and dishwashers, as well as windows, no contractors are listed to provide those services this year.

Only one service provider, ProStar HVAC in Allen, is listed to provide central air conditioners and heat pumps under the Oncor program.

The home energy-efficiency and low-income weatherization programs usually run out of money later in the year, so if you’re interested, act quickly.

Teresa McUsic’s column appears Saturdays. TMcUsic@SavvyConsumer.net

Oncor’s programs

▪ Go to www.TakeALoadOffTexas.com or call 866-728-3674 for a list of contractors sorted by ZIP code. Homeowners must be in Oncor’s service territory.

▪ Contact several contractors and ask about pricing and services. See whether they pass on the funding from the Oncor program to their customers. Ask whether there’s a fee to evaluate the home. Check any contractor’s record with the Better Business Bureau.