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Austin Energy rebate to help renters

Wednesday, April 19, 2017 by Sommer Brugal

The Electric Utility Commission approved a rebate for the Lodge at Stone Oak Ranch apartment complex on April 17. The rebate, requested by Austin Energy, is meant to help fund energy-efficiency improvements at the complex.

The proposed rebate is one element of Austin Energy’s Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan, parts of which focus on multifamily apartment complexes. This particular rebate relates to duct sealing. According to Deborah Kimberly, vice president of Customer Energy Solutions at Austin Energy, the benefits of such seemingly simple improvements are quite substantial.

“People (will see) their bills drop by $16 a month, close to $200 a year, just by sealing the duct,” Kimberly explained. She said such adjustments can improve air quality as well.

The property is located at 5400 Parmer Lane and comprises 19 buildings with 434 apartment units. The estimated cost of the project is $160,551. The proposed rebate will cover 80 percent of the total cost, but is not to exceed $128,441.

In 2008, City Council approved the Energy Conservation Audit and Disclosure ordinance, and later passed a revision in 2011. Designed to improve the energy efficiency of homes and buildings receiving electricity from Austin Energy, the ordinance requires energy audits and disclosures for all homes and buildings. For multifamily properties and homeowners, such actions are required every few years.

Despite this, though, Kimberly said it’s a category that doesn’t have 100 percent compliance with Energy Conservation Audit and Disclosure ordinance regulations. “It’s not something most people think about,” she said. “When vacancy rates are low, there’s not much incentive to upgrade something they can’t see.”

The rebate program is meant to offer those incentives.

Some commission members, however, questioned whether homeowners and renters would receive enough information up front. Carol Biedrzycki, a former commission member who sat in on the meeting, inquired whether the properties should indicate Energy Conservation Audit and Disclosure ordinance compliance before its owners are offered a rebate to make the proposed improvements.

Requiring compliance beforehand, though, would involve an additional audit, Kimberly said. Property owners would have to invest a lot of money up front to cover the initial costs of the required audits, and in many cases, it could deter them from using Austin Energy programs. Having to undergo two audits within a few months’ time frame, she said, is hard to justify.

Instead, Kimberly said the rebate program will give property owners a project estimate and they will receive a rebate check only after they can show the proper improvements. “We’re accomplishing the same goal without going through two audits.”

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