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Albany, finish job for green homes

Mark Gunthner is president of Home Performance Technologies in Brentwood. Rich Manning is president of Energy Master & Environmental Solutions in Hauppauge.

Albany gets a lot of abuse, but sometimes they get it right. Last fall, New York's elected leaders took a strong and intelligent step toward addressing the state's environmental and unemployment challenges.

The Green Jobs/Green NY Act was a genuinely bipartisan achievement, and it laid the groundwork for a new program to create a state-administered, but privately capitalized, Retrofit Recovery Investment Fund that will in turn produce thousands of new jobs (60,000 is the best estimate), a major reduction in New York's greenhouse gas emissions, and reduced utility bills for homeowners and renters across the state.

The program offers upfront money for homeowners to make energy efficiency improvements on their homes, and pay back the cost of such "retrofits" over time through the money saved on their home energy bills.

New Yorkers are ready, but our elected leaders have one task remaining: In order to unlock the program's full promise, they must complete what they started and pass "on-bill recovery" financing legislation into law.

On-bill recovery is the mechanism that enables homeowners to use their utility bill to pay back the savings, and it's what ensures private investors in the Retrofit Recovery Fund that they will be repaid.

When investors provide the upfront capital, demand for energy efficiency retrofits will increase. That increased demand can only be met with an adequate workforce. Contractors will have to hire more workers, and that means more jobs here on Long Island.

Already, neighborhoods are planning for implementation. In both Nassau and Suffolk, churches and civic associations are educating members about energy efficiency. Job trainers are adjusting their curricula to suit the needs of home performance companies. Contractors are partnering with community groups to recruit local hires.

On-bill recovery is the crucial mechanism that will bring energy savings to regular homeowners: families struggling to pay property taxes, single moms working two jobs, and small building owners hurting from the collapse of the housing market.

Without on-bill recovery, the benefits of the Green Jobs/Green NY legislation will be accessible only to a small segment of wealthier homeowners with access to capital. The 1 million retrofits anticipated in the original legislation will shrink to tens of thousands, at most.

It's not just moderate and middle-income homeowners who would miss out. The state's unemployed would lose the chance for those 60,000 new jobs. And all of us would suffer from the continued damage to the environment.

On-bill recovery works by aligning the state's energy authority, utility companies and lenders, and allows homeowners to safely repay the cost of their retrofit on their utility bill without added risk of credit damage or utility shut off.

Any homeowner who is a utility customer in good standing qualifies. And because customers repay the retrofit loans in amounts that are less than their energy savings, their bills decrease, allowing families to keep more cash in their pockets.

In decent economic times, the opportunity to create new jobs without straining the state's budget would be silly to pass up. Now - with an unemployed population topping 800,000 and projected revenue gap of $9 billion - Green Jobs/Green NY with on-bill recovery is a lifeline.

Last fall, the governor and legislature stepped forward to pass this unprecedented program. Now they need to finish the job.


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