Incentives to go green, save energy are greater than ever

April 08, 2009|By JAY HANCOCK | JAY HANCOCK,jay.hancock@baltsun.com

Two-thirds of Americans think the environment is getting worse, but most haven't made major changes to help the air, soil and water, according to recent Gallup polls.

If you're one of the procrastinators, your number of excuses just got smaller. Thanks to the recently passed federal stimulus bill, Maryland energy grants and a maturation of the alternative energy industry, the incentives to go green in big ways and small are higher than they've ever been.

Wind-generated electricity is the cheapest in history. Government and utilities will pay for huge portions of insulation upgrades, efficient appliances and solar installations. And anybody can shave $100 off his or her electric bill this summer by letting Baltimore Gas & Electric briefly shut off their air conditioning on the hottest days.

The federal stimulus allows a one-time, $1,500 tax credit for 30 percent of the cost of qualified energy upgrades between now and the end of 2010.

Spend $1,000 on attic insulation? The feds will pay for $300 of it. It's a tax credit, not a deduction, which means the $300 comes straight off the U.S. taxes you would otherwise owe.

Next, say you buy an Energy Star-certified water heater for another $1,000. You get $300 more in a tax credit. You can keep this up until you hit the $1,500 cap.

The best federal deal of all, however, is for solar arrays and other hardware generating renewable energy. The credit is 30 percent, and there's no cap. Put a $30,000 solar setup on your roof - a typical cost - and the IRS will spot you $9,000, enough to wipe out a year's taxes for many families.

Maryland is handing out grants of up to $10,000 for household wind- and solar-energy installations and $3,000 for new geothermal heat pumps.

(The state might reduce this for the fiscal year beginning July 1. But substantial state incentives will remain, says Malcolm Woolf, director of the Maryland Energy Administration. Contact MEA at 410-260-7655.)

Maryland is also aiming federal stimulus money at upgrading insulation and appliances for low- and moderate-income households. (Contact the state Department of Housing and Community Development, 410-514-7000).

Harford, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's counties also offer property tax credits for solar and geothermal units.

"Maryland is a bit on the cutting edge" of energy efficiency promotion, said Lane Burt, a policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Utilities, too, want to be co-investors in your quest to cut energy use. BGE has long offered $50 rebates on high-efficiency refrigerators, freezers and washers. BGE just received approval for a more ambitious plan that will rebate 15 percent of the cost of qualified energy upgrades - up to $1,300. (Watch BGESmartEnergy.com for details as the program is rolled out.)

Combined, all these programs could end up paying for close to half of some aspects of making your house weather-tight. Then you'll save hundreds or thousands in future BGE bills.

You can also save on BGE bills by signing up for PeakRewards (888-309-7325), which puts a cutoff switch on your air conditioner. I've had it for two summers and never noticed it.

Save even more by buying electricity through Clean Currents (301-754-0430). At 11.5 cents per kilowatt hour, Clean Currents' "100 percent wind" product will be about $10 less per month this summer than BGE's standard price. (Yes, you can buy from Clean Currents or other alternate suppliers and stay in BGE's PeakRewards plan.)

You're not necessarily buying Maryland-produced wind electricity, but each Clean Currents kilowatt comes with a "Green Tag" certifying that an equal amount of wind electricity was produced somewhere in the country.

Or switch to Washington Gas Energy Services' (888-884-9437) even cheaper (5 percent wind) deal of 10.8 cents per kilowatt-hour and invest the savings in insulation, solar panels and whatnot.

You'll help the planet, save on taxes, stimulate the economy and reap lower BGE bills.

What are you waiting for?

ENERGY UPGRADE INCENTIVES

* 30 percent federal tax credit up to $1,500 for insulation, appliances, other retrofits

* 30 percent federal tax credit, unlimited, for installing solar, geothermal systems

* Maryland grants of up to $10,000 for solar, household wind systems

* $100 BGE credits for air conditioner shut-off switches

* 15 percent BGE rebates on efficient appliances

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