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City seeking grant to help homeowners cut back electric use

By Staff | Nov 30, 2009

City officials are striving for a competitive grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to retrofit approximately 7,000 homes with new technology that will cut the electric usage for air conditioning and heating water.
Oliver Clarke, a city engineer, said the grant provides $74 million worth of funding for the retrofits along with some costs paid for by homeowners.
Upgrades to local homes would include installing a high efficiency SEER 18.5 air conditioning system, an attic radiant heat barrier and a heat recovery air conditioner to pre-heat hot water.
Although not as famous as other forms of alternative energy, such as solar power, these upgrades would cut electricity use by 60 percent for air conditioning and heating water, officials said.
“This is an established technology and very easy to implement,” said Clarke.
Acting City Manager Carl Schwing said savings for local homeowners would amount to $1,100 each year, yet installing the technology could cost as much as $8,500.
Councilmember Marty McClain stressed that these retrofits would be expensive for Cape Coral residents. He said all three upgrades are done together and he doesn’t want local homeowners to feel like they were being “ripped off” buy a contractor.
“That is a compete replacement, there are no mix and matches in these parts. That is an extremely expensive system,” said McClain.
Some residents are concerned that decreases in electric usage would cause an increase in LCEC utility rates for customers without these retrofits.
Clarke said an increase in utility rates has occurred in other cities, but couldn’t provide the council with an answer related to local rates from LCEC.
“I have seen that occur with other utilities,” he said. “Whether this would have enough impact on them to have to raise their rates, I couldn’t answer that question.”
The city’s electric demand would decrease by 11 megawatts, said Clarke, while Desoto’s Next Generation Solar Energy Center — visited by President Barack Obama in October — cuts 25 megawatts.
“We will use the volume of this job to get a catalogue of manufacturing items coupled with a list of good contractors set up to do this,” said Clarke.
Councilmember Pete Brandt was concerned about the technology’s effect on homes with a metal roof. Clarke said that typical asphalt roofs increase in temperature by approximately six degrees with the heaters.
Councilmember Derrick Donnell pointed out that the grant process is only the first step in this project and that the city hasn’t been awarded any grant yet. He asked staff to begin working out the specific issues that may arise from the retrofits.
“I want to make it clear that this is step one. Step two is that we work out all of the specifics,” he said.
A memo from Schwing stated that residents would get a pay-back from their cost share in three years, making their final cost $3,000. The project would also create 154 local jobs, according to officials.