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Energy efficiency shores up the value of our city

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The city of Greensboro has $5 million to spend on improvements to homes and businesses to achieve energy savings and improve the value of properties. With many Greensboro residents struggling to make mortgage payments and keep businesses afloat, it would be hard to imagine a more effective investment to shore up and protect the value of our neighborhoods and business corridors, not to mention enhance safety and comfort.

For reasons that have more to do with ideology and vindictiveness towards certain members of the community than practical considerations, the city council almost sent the money back. Although the program has been plagued by long delays and political interference, BetterBuildings appears to be finally taking off.

About 40 residents attended public input meetings last week to give staff suggestions about getting the word out about the program and on July 1 the city issued a request for proposals for a community outreach consultant.

At the grassroots level, the Beloved Community Center has been deploying a corps of interns throughout the city to inform residents about the opportunity to participate in the program.

One positive outcome of the political wrangling is that some of the federal money has been set aside for direct grants to low-income residents. Qualifying homeowners can receive up to $2,000 for basic upgrades, which includes sealing air leaks and ductwork, resulting in an estimated energy cost savings of at least 15 percent. To qualify, a one-person household must earn no more than $27,225 per year, a two-person household no more than $36,775, a three-person household no more than $46,325. And so forth.

The city is required to provide a 5-1 match for the federal dollars with private investment. Larger players such as the Nussbaum Center for Entrepreneurship are expected to offset the direct grants by investing their own money or obtaining low-interest loans backed by the federal grant money.

Homeowners who want to undertake mid-level upgrades such as replacing their heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems or installing solar panels would likely be required to take out loans.

Edna W. Smith rents her house off of Pinecroft Road near Four Seasons Town Centre from her stepson. She would like to replace a 20-year-old HVAC system that is inefficient and blows in dust from the ductwork.

“It would make me worry less about a fire,” she said. Also, one of her outside doors is poorly sealed and leaks heat. She hopes to persuade her stepson to apply for a low-interest loan through the BetterBuildings program.

“It’s about to break me,” said Smith, who lives off of a restricted income. “I know I could save enough for it to be helpful to me on my energy bill.”

It’s up to the whole community to make this program successful.

Council should support the capable city employees in the trenches working to make it happen.

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