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Chapel Hill to incentivize energy-efficient home improvements

With rising summer air conditioning bills in sight, more than 100 Chapel Hill residents are aiming to make their homes more energy efficient.

Through the town’s Worthwhile Investments Save Energy program, residents apply for town subsidies of household improvements that can reduce energy bills.

Nora Barger, energy efficiency coordinator for Chapel Hill, said the program has received a better response than expected.

“The population of Chapel Hill understands the benefits of energy efficiency improvements and saving energy, so when the program was released they just jumped at the opportunity,” she said.

The program, which is funded by two grants from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, seeks to reduce energy consumption by conducting energy assessments and completing home improvements for eligible owners.

Residents pay $50 for assessments but can receive as much as $5,000 to fund their upgrades.

The first phase of the program will be capped at 125 homes, but Barger said the town is expecting to launch a second phase sometime this summer.

John Richardson, town sustainability officer, said incentives for the second phase will likely be lower than the current average of about $4,000 per project.

“As we move forward, we have to be mindful of our budget limitations,” Richardson said. “We are grant funded but also one of our goals is to look for ways to make the program last beyond the life of the grant funding.”

To keep incentives relatively high without relying solely on grant funding, the town is looking to build partnerships with local contractors, Richardson said.

The town is now working with EnergyTribe, Southern Energy Management, Sundogs Solutions and Home Performance NC.

Richardson said the program has completed four improvement projects that have cost between $6,000 and $10,000.

Chapel Hill resident Sarah Reuning received funding for 50 percent of her home’s improvements.

“I have an older house so it is not very energy efficient, and I had wanted to get an assessment done just to see the kind of improvements that I could make to it to lower my bills,” she said.

Reuning said she expects her utility bill to decrease by 28 percent — meaning her improvements will pay for themselves within three years.

“I saw it as a win-win for everybody,” she said. “I am now using less energy and I am paying less money for it, and it took less money to get the upgrades to begin with.”

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