Covington, along with other members of the Electric Cities of Georgia, cities which run their own utilities, are jointly applying for some of the $82 million that the stimulus package will provide to Georgia's State Energy Program. The SEP, run through the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority, provides money to local governments to either make government buildings more energy efficient or help residents and businesses make their buildings more efficient.
City Manager Steve Horton said Covington was most interested in the programs for their customers; there are separate $2 million programs for residences, commercial businesses and larger industries.
Doug Moore, principal engineer of Energy Services for ECG, is handling the joint application and said the residential, commercial and industrial programs would provide money to do more energy audits, which are inspections of a building's efficiency, and actually to improve efficiency through insulation or better windows.
Covington already offers audits to customers who request them, but the SEP money will allow them to do more audits and possibly more intense audits. Moore said there are three kinds of audits: online, which are basic and depend on the customer's knowledge; walk-throughs, where a utility employee will walk though and visually examine the building; and home performance audits, where an employee uses instruments to actually test the performance on the HVAC system and measures how much air is leaking through doors and windows.
However, Moore said audits are only useful if the people are able to fix any problems that occur. That's where the second component comes of the stimulus money comes in. The program would pay for some of the cost of insulation, new windows and other measures and would allow for residents and business owners to get low interest loans, between zero and one percent, to make improvements.
Customers could then pay back the loan through their monthly energy bill.
"The hope is that the customer will save enough through the changes that (even with the cost of the loan added in the) bill would stay the same or decrease," Moore said.
City Utility Director Bill Meecham said as the money is repaid to the city, the city could then turn around and use that money to help other customers make their buildings more energy efficient, creating a cycle.
Horton said the program could be particularly important for residents with older homes.
"So many homes out there, across the nation, are older homes and were built before insulation was a big deal, when utility costs were cheaper and people didn't think about insulation as much. It wasn't cost effective," Horton said. "But now with escalating prices, it's much more important for insulation and energy efficiency."
The ECG cities are applying together, because only between two to five grants are given out in each area, so many of the 50-plus member cities could be left out of the cold otherwise. Moore said around 15 cities have shown interest in applying so far. The deadline to apply is Aug. 31, and if everything goes right, ECG cities could be using the money by October.
Moore said a 50 percent match would likely be required, and the Covington City Council has approved the use of up to $42,600.
In related news, the already existent Partnership for Community Action, which has an office in Rockdale County, is also receiving additional stimulus money to enhance its Weatherization Assistance Program. The WAP is similar to the SEP, but it only applies to low-income families and focuses on replacing old appliances with more energy-efficient ones.
PCA President and CEO Mohammad Saleem said Newton County was receiving $598,797, to inspect and replace appliances in 86 homes over the next three years.
He said the company will bid out a contact soon, and hopes to start work sometime in September.
When funding is secured, both Moore and Saleem said they would advertise about how residents and businesses could apply for the program. For more information visit the GEFA Web site and click on the What's New tab and visit PCA at pcaction.org.