On Springfield

State Offers "Green" Tornado Aid

About 3,800 Western Mass. property owners filed for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency after the freak tornadoes that hit the region last June. And many of them are likely eligible for financial incentives from a state program designed to help them not just to rebuild, but to rebuild greener.

The ReBuild Western Massachusetts program, part of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, is offering $8 million in grants and zero-interest loans for energy-efficient repair and rebuilding projects. The incentives include grants for energy-efficient doors, windows and HVAC equipment, for insulation and weatherization projects, and for installation of solar systems to produce electricity or heat water.

The program is funded by money paid to the state by utilities and by federal stimulus funds. It’s open to home owners, businesses, non-profit organizations, houses of worship and municipalities.

Property owners who are rebuilding will have to make sure their projects meet the current building codes anyway, noted the EOEE’s Galen Nelson; the state incentives will allow them not only to meet those codes, but exceed their energy-efficiency requirements—in the process, reducing their monthly energy costs, increasing their property values, and making their homes more comfortable.

To qualify, a project must meet “Energy Star” standards of efficiency. Those criteria are not especially taxing to meet, said Nelson, noting that much new construction is being built to Energy Star requirements.

Last week, Nelson was in Springfield promoting the program. “Getting the word out about any government program is always a challenge,” he said. And in this case, it’s made harder by the fact that the people eligible for it likely have been distracted by more pressing matters: cleaning up tornado damage, securing their properties, dealing with insurers and government-assistance agencies. “People are just focused on getting back in their homes,” Nelson said. “People may see this [program] as yet another thing they have to contend with. We’re trying to make the case that it’s easy to deal with”—and it will save property owners money down the road.

To that end, Nelson points to a state website that explains the program, and a toll-free number (877-524-1325) people can call to talk with a counselor, who will help determine what aid they might be eligible for and walk them through the application process.

Property owners who’ve already finished rebuilding efforts, or who are in the midst of their project, may still be eligible for reimbursement from the program, Nelson said. And owners who’ve just replaced their roofs might want to consider taking advantage of the solar incentives, he added: “When you’ve got a new roof, that’s the perfect time to install solar, because the lifetime of the roof is the same as the lifetime of the panels.”

So far, Nelson said, the program has received more than 100 calls from people interested in the program, and has given away more than $100,000 in grants and committed to about $150,000 in zero-interest loans. That leaves most of the $8 million still on the table—but it won’t be there forever. Right now, Nelson said, funding from the federal recovery act is due to expire on April 30, although an extension is possible.

© 2014 The Valley Advocate