The front of Leaf House. Photo credit: The Leaf Community
Highlights from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, signed by President Obama on Tuesday:
1. The economic stimulus act provides $5 billion for the Weatherization Assistance Program; increases the eligible income level for the program from 150% of poverty level (determined by criteria established by the Office of Management and Budget) to 200% of poverty level; increases the amount of money that can be spent per home from $2,500 to $6,500; and allows weatherization assistance for homes that were weatherized before 1994 (previously, homes weatherized after 1979 could not be “re-weatherized”).
2. $4 billion was allocated to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to retrofit public housing, and $510 million to retrofit the homes of Native Americans.
3. The stimulus bill gives $500 million to the Department of Labor to train workers for careers in energy efficiency and renewable energy.
4. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provides increased tax credits for homeowners for energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy installations; the act increases the tax credit for energy efficiency improvements from 10% to 30%, and gives a 30% tax credit for the cost of qualified solar energy systems, geothermal heat pumps, small wind turbines, and fuel cell systems.
5. The tax credit for homeowners who install a natural gas refueling system for a natural gas car, a charging system for a plug-in electric or hybrid vehicle, a hydrogen refueling station for a fuel cell car, or another refueling system in their homes is doubled from $1,000 to $2,000. The credit is good through 2010 for most refueling systems and through 2014 for hydrogen refueling systems.
There are many more provisions in the bill that support building energy efficiency, automotive energy efficiency, the manufacture and use of renewable energy systems, and research into (among other things) high performance batteries.
We recently covered in Home Energy Magazine a story from Italy about the Leaf Community. It is a live/work community outside of Rome where they create all the energy they need by taking it from the sun, the wind, and the ground (using geothermal heat pumps). They are doing a lot of research into storing energy, and that is clearly becoming a top priority among scientists. Energy produced from the sun and wind, for example, is intermittent, and sun and wind resources are often far from populations that need clean energy, requiring expensive transmission systems (more overhead wires). At Leaf House, they produce hydrogen using the electricity produced by photovoltaic solar panels, and store the hydrogen in a “chemical battery”. The hydrogen can later be reclaimed and used in a fuel cell to create electricity.
Retrofitting homes to be more efficient, healthy, and sustainable is a “three-fer”, as President Obama called it in a recent television interview: it saves energy; makes homes more affordable; and creates jobs. And research such as that taking place at Leaf House opens the door to unimagined, elegant solutions to our energy challenges. One thing that the economic stimulus package has already delivered — something that has long been lacking in the energy efficiency and renewable energy community — is hope.