Free energy audits offered on rail route

courtesy of Emily Gersema – Mar. 23, 2012
The Republic

Ashley Hardee, 29, prides herself on keeping a tight rein on her energy usage.

She lives and works in downtown Phoenix, doesn’t use much gas and now she’s making sure every potential leak in her house is either stemmed or stifled to reduce her utility bills and energy waste.

This week, she participated in a well-touted but little-known program, Energize Phoenix, which aims to help homeowners and businesses within a 10-mile area of central and downtown Phoenix improve their homes’ energy efficiency and reduce electricity usage.

Her condo’s air-conditioning and heating system seemed efficient, “but it’s really my back bedroom that gets hot,” she told David Byrnes, an environmental engineer with Phoenix-based Green Integrated Design, who on Monday checked the windows and doors in her condo for air leaks.

Although Hardee paid $99 for the assessment by Byrnes, she is getting a $99 rebate from the Energize Phoenix program.

Managed by the city, Arizona Public Service and Arizona State University, Energize Phoenix has not been as electrifying for residents as it has been for businesses despite the potential benefits of reduced energy usage and lower utility bills.

Phoenix has spent an estimated $9.1 million of the $25 million in grant funds it received for the program in April 2010, according to a federal website,, that tracks spending of stimulus funds.

Most of the grant money spent in Phoenix has benefited businesses in the special corridor.

Homeowners have been a more difficult target, said a Phoenix-area marketing agency, DRA Communications, which was hired to aid the city with marketing the program.

Single-family home participation especially lags.

If Phoenix doesn’t spend all the money by June 2013, the city will have to return any unspent grant dollars to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Among those who can participate in Energize Phoenix are owners of apartment or condo complexes, homes and businesses within central Phoenix and downtown in areas surrounding the city’s 10-mile stretch of light rail. Phoenix officials have called this area the Green Rail Corridor.

In 2010, the corridor was very narrow, spanning a half mile on either side of the rail line from Camelback Road and Central Avenue to 44th and Washington streets. Phoenix widened the corridor in recent months to nearly a mile, an attempt at increasing participation.

In the north-south portion of the light-rail corridor, the boundary streets are Seventh Avenue, Seventh Street and Missouri Avenue to just south of Jefferson Street.

The east-west portion of the corridor has these boundary streets: Seventh Avenue, Arizona 143, Interstate 10 in downtown Phoenix, Loop 202 and Jefferson Street.

Home or business owners in the corridor can participate by contacting one of the 24 approved contractors to conduct the energy audit. The contractor’s audit is $99 up front but a homeowner recovers that money through an Energize Phoenix rebate.

Home or business owners who are concerned they cannot afford the $99 up-front cost and can’t wait for the rebate may qualify for the Energy Assist Program, which helps low-income owners. Renters may also qualify for temporary assistance.

After checking for leaks or other problems that lead to high electricity usage, the contractor can recommend steps to improving the efficiency of a home or business that would qualify for various rebates such as APS’ Home Performance program, Energy Star and Energize Phoenix.

Phoenix officials said 1,083 apartments or multifamily housing units have applied for Energize Phoenix assessments and potential rebates.

So far, 302 of them have made energy-efficiency improvements, and 388 went through the assessments. The remaining 393 owners have scheduled energy audits to check their usage and energy waste.

Energize Phoenix participants include 285 businesses, 149 of which have finished energy-efficiency upgrades while the other 136 are in the process of making improvements, Phoenix officials said.

Few owners of single-family homes in the corridor have participated in Energize Phoenix. City officials on Tuesday said owners of 133 single-family homes have applied for the program, and of those, 74 have undergone energy audits. Twenty-four of those homes have had upgrades.

Michelle McGinty of DRA Communications said the program has had low participation from homeowners in other cities and metropolitan areas as well, which The Republic reported in September.

The DRA marketing team has worked with the 24 contractors that conduct the energy audits to involve more homeowners, she said.

The team has also tried advertisements and door hangers in the affected neighborhoods to alert residents of an energy fair today at the Burton Barr Central Library.

Saving energy for the sake of helping the environment and reducing energy usage are laudable messages, but they have not resonated well with residents. McGinty said marketers have found residents in the corridor seem more concerned “about the impact on their pocketbook.”

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