Bourbon County

100 houses to get energy-saving features

The houses where low-income families live often are poorly insulated and waste energy, but 100 Central Kentucky houses will be getting updates to make them more efficient.

In what officials are touting as a first-in-the-nation pilot program that will be kicked off in Lexington Thursday morning, the houses will get insulation and weatherstripping, and some will be outfitted with new furnaces, siding, refrigerators and solar water heaters. Some will even have "smart meters" that tell how much energy is being used at any given time.

The $1 million program, called Kentucky Clean Energy Corps, will depend on federal grants and loans, and contributions from corporations, individuals and organizations. Volunteers will do some of the work, but one idea behind the program is to make Kentucky a state where workers are trained in energy efficiency.

State officials say the pilot will be the first step toward a statewide effort that could use $100 million from the federal stimulus package to rehabilitate 10,000 homes.

Also on Thursday, Gov. Steve Beshear will be the featured speaker in a teleconference put on by the Center for American Progress to announce a nationwide effort to retrofit and upgrade more than 15 million buildings.

"They're going to be patting us on the back but, more importantly, encouraging other states to follow Kentucky's lead," state Finance and Administration Cabinet Secretary Jonathan Miller said Wednesday.

Miller said that being held up as an example in green technology is quite a feat for what he described as "an energy-inefficient state, a coal state, a red state."

Indeed, Kentucky's per capita energy use is among the highest in the nation.

The 100 houses in the pilot phase are in Fayette, Clark and Bourbon counties, and they are inhabited by low-income families. The occupant of the house that will kick off the program Thursday was described as "low- to moderate-income."

An average of $10,000 will be spent on each house in the pilot program, Miller said.

The money that residents of the houses save in energy costs will increase their spending, boosting the state's economy, he said.

At first, the program will be restricted to families that make 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or $42,400 a year for a family of four.

People at the upper end of that range might get some loans instead of grants, using their energy savings to repay the loans.

Later, people who make more than that, but still can't afford energy upgrades, could gets loans in a revolving plan that will be self-sustaining, Miller said.

Eventually, as energy efficiency becomes more popular, people in the middle- and upper-income brackets will want their houses to be refitted, Miller said.

The demand for energy auditors and people who are skilled in such remodeling will create jobs and make Kentucky a leader in those fields, he said.

Beshear released a state energy plan last year that relied heavily on energy efficiency. Last week, he announced a plan to adjust heating and cooling systems and turn off lights in state buildings at night and on weekends.