Get It While It's Hot: PGW has millions to help thousands save hundreds

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story by Brian Rademaeker / photo by Mark Group

It might come as a surprise, but the folks at Philadelphia Gas Works (PGW) don’t like it any more than you do when you get a whopper of a gas bill. Skeptical? Check out the raft of rebates and incentives PGW is offering to help cut back on wasteful (read: expensive) natural gas use, an especially pricey problem in old Philly houses with clunky, inefficient gas boilers and furnaces. 

“It’s about helping customers become more efficient,” says Elliott Gold, manager of PGW’s Energy Efficiency Programs. “We want to help our customers afford their bill. We’d rather they pay 100 percent of a smaller bill than zero percent of a larger bill.”

Since 2011, PGW has invested $18 million in making Philly homes more efficient for residents who pay for natural gas at market rates, a process that has not only saved homeowners money, but also cut back on greenhouse gas emissions. When you include what’s been invested in low-income homes, where customers pay for gas at subsidized rates, the number is even higher. The funds come from a $60 million grant from the Public Utility Commission, which regulates companies like PGW. While the fund could dry up in 2015, PGW still has about $12 million to invest in market-rate customers’ homes and industrial and commercial buildings, and they’re trying to connect with consumers to prove the program is a worthwhile investment.

As part of PGW’s EnergySense program, the efficiency initiatives, which include rebates for things like low-energy gas boilers and programmable thermostats, are funded through August 31, 2015. PGW will give homeowners as much as $2,000 towards a boiler with a 94 percent efficiency rating and $500 for natural gas furnaces with a 94 percent efficiency rating. Gold says customers can save on average $350 per year with the new boiler across a 15- to 20-year lifespan. Even bigger rebates are in store for residential customers under a new efficiency program being launched this summer.

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And while most people won’t be fretting during the warmer months over heating bills to come, Gold insists that anyone looking to upgrade their air conditioning or HVAC system this summer should jump in for the full package and invest in programs offered by PGW while they’re getting the work done. Despite the incentives and clear savings, Gold says it has been difficult to convince homeowners to spend big bucks on better, more efficient equipment and home improvements.Residential customers: Equipment rebates up to $2,000. Construction grants up to $2,750. Building grants for existing property upgrades coming this Summer 2013. Commercial customers: Equipment rebates up to $8,400. Construction grants up to $60,000. Building grants for existing property upgrades up to $75,000

“You can’t just run down to the corner store to buy this equipment,” says Gold. “We are trying to compel customers to purchase equipment that is more expensive.” PGW is looking at customers who already have to invest in a new HVAC system, but aren’t comfortable with buying a pricier, more efficient model that will be cheaper in the long run. The PGW incentives are designed to give those customers the money and extra push they need to make that investment. But Gold wants homeowners and commercial property owners to think big and do all the work they can to cut back on wasteful gas use. “Where you really see deep savings is through the comprehensive programs,” he says.

Through PGW’s Comprehensive Residential Retrofit Incentives program, customers can identify cost-effective measures through an energy audit, and then implement a range of fixes like air-sealing, attic and wall insulation, and high-efficiency windows that will make the efficient heating equipment even more effective. Beyond retrofitting, Gold says builders of new commercial, industrial or multi-family buildings can get grants for as much as $60,000 to use the most efficient materials and equipment. The further they go beyond the efficiency standards set by building codes, the more they can get from the program. In kitchens, restaurants are encouraged to save resources with stoves that use less gas. “If they are looking at doing a project, now is the time to do it,” says Gold. “There’s a range of programs for a range of customers.”

The improvements, “make sense both environmentally and economically,” Gold argues. “We are reducing emissions, and that is the same thing as taking cars off the road. People don’t have to choose between the environment and economics. It’s this combination idea where you can have your cake and eat it too.” 

For more information on programs and incentives from PGW, visit pgwenergysense.com