Washington, D.C., Oct. 19--Vice President Biden unveiled a new multi-agency report that aims to expand green job opportunities and boost energy saving by making the country’s existing homes more energy efficient.

The Recovery Through Retrofit report lays the groundwork for economic recovery led by a self-sustaining home energy-efficiency retrofit industry, said Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, which spearheaded the initiative.

“This report builds on the foundation laid in the Recovery Act to expand green jobs and business opportunities for the middle class while ensuring that the energy efficiency market will thrive for years to come,” said Sutley during a press conference,  noting that the country’s 130 million homes create 20% of its carbon dioxide emissions.

Despite the environmental benefits and energy savings associated with improving home energy efficiency—up to $21 billion nationally a year--a series of barriers have interfered with the long-term growth of the retrofit market, said Biden. These barriers include consumers’ lack of access to information and financing, and a shortage of skilled workers.

Earlier this year, the vice president challenged the heads of 11 government departments and agencies and six White House Offices to develop ways to use existing funding to overcome these barriers. The resulting recommendations leverage Recovery Act funding to help ensure that the energy efficiency market will thrive long after the federal money is spent. They include:
--Providing homeowners with reliable benchmarking information and sound estimates of the costs and benefits of energy retrofits. “We’ll provide consumers with a home performance label, kind of like how Energy Star works for appliances,” Biden said.
--Making access to retrofit financing more transparent and accessible, and repayable over a longer time period. 
--Establishing a uniform set of national standards to qualify professionals and  trainers. “We want to advance a nationally recognized certification program to give consumers peace of mind when selecting retrofit workers,” said the vice president.

To read the full report click here.

In conjunction with the report, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced a new $390 million Retrofit Ramp-Up program that will utilize Recovery Act funds to deliver energy savings to entire neighborhoods and towns. Bringing retrofits to whole neighborhoods at one time will simplify the process for homeowners and significantly reduce costs, said Secretary of Energy Steven Chu.

“We want to be able to offer discounts on services for mass-production retrofitting, where neighbors would join together and have all the houses on one block or in one neighborhood audited and retrofitted at the same time” said Chu. “By doing this we hope to bring the costs of retrofitting way down.”

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The DOE also announced that State Energy Grant or Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grant funds can be used for Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) pilots, which allow communities to provide financing to homeowners to install renewable energy systems and retrofit buildings that can be paid off over time on their property tax bills.

“This will make it easier for homeowners to borrow money for home energy retrofits,” noted Biden. “Residents will have the option to borrow from their municipality and pay the loan back through property taxes, over time. If you sell the house, the next owner will continue to pay on the loan. This way, we spread the cost out over a longer period of time.”

For more about the PACE pilot program, click here.

The Obama Administration’s hope is that all these efforts will lead to more efficient homes, a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and job creation. Biden pointed out that energy-efficient retrofits can reduce each home’s energy use by up to 40 percent, and lower total associated greenhouse gas emissions by up to 160 million metric tons annually.

“This would be equivalent to taking 30 million cars off the road,” he told reporters. “This is going to create good-paying jobs and create a way that we can begin to rebuild this economy.”

Jennifer Goodman is Senior Editor Online for EcoHome.