Financial Incentives for Sustainable Development

Although some have expired, a great many government tax incentives, credits and other financial rewards are still available for homeowners who wish to install some form of green energy system in their principal residence.*

These incentives are intended both to stimulate economic activity and reflect society's growing recognition of the potential dangers and problems caused by global climate change, dependence on foreign oil supplies, and other impending changes in our energy economy. Governments at the federal, state, and local levels are trying to incentivize their residents to install so-called "green" technology that does a better job of utilizing renewable energy sources and/or being more efficient in its use of energy, regardless of its source.

That's why today homeowners are today surrounded by a massive system of subsidies that provide tangible encouragement for them to buy, and for manufacturers to make available, a wide variety of sustainable technologies. While critics say these subsidies are growing too fast and distorting the economy, that's nothing new, since the petroleum industry has long benefited by large scale systems of subsidies, incentives, and giveaways that have made oil and plastics seem far more "affordable" than they would if the total cost of their extraction and manufacture, and the resulting need for environmental clean-up, were included in their prices.

But some of these "green" subsidies are about to expire, and for political rather than practical reasons they may not be renewed. That's is why you might want to go over the list of what's available in your town, and consider whether they make sustainable and efficient energy systems the right choice for your home and your family.

Your calculations, of course, should include not only the cash involved from the subsidies and incentives, but also the energy savings a new system will produce over its lifetime, as well as any intangible benefits you'll enjoy simply from knowing that your home is part of the energy solution, rather than part of the world's energy problem.

Generally, the federal government is still giving tax credits for weatherization and alternative energy systems -- such as energy-efficient doors, windows, skylights, insulation, roofing, HVAC systems, water heaters, and even biomass stoves -- in the amount of 30% of your cost, up to a maximum tax credit of $1,500. You can usually get the same 30%-of-purchase-price tax credit, but with no upper limit, on new residential solar electricity, wind turbines and geothermal heat pumps that you install.

State and local governments, and local utility companies, sometimes kick in even more for the same energy-efficient investment.

The other good news is that any energy conservation subsidies you may receive from public utilities, whether directly or indirectly, are not taxed as income, increasing the benefit even further.

For details of what's available to you, visit DSIRE, the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency. It's a comprehensive source of information on state, local, utility and federal incentives and policies that promote renewable energy and energy efficiency. Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, DSIRE is an ongoing project of the N.C. Solar Center and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council.

More later ...

Photo credit: DSIRE

(*Your "principal residence" is the home where you live most of the time. It must be located within the United States, and can be a house, houseboat, mobile home, cooperative apartment, condominium, or a manufactured home. Temporary absence from this home due to illness, education, business, military service, vacation, or other special circumstance does not invalidlate your claim to the home being your principal residence.)