Image courtesy of Western Cooling Efficiency Center UC Davis

With little fanfare and even less media splash, lawmakers passed the energy efficiency-related EmPOWER Maryland law this past session. This anti-energy-waste law will save you big cash.

Research proved that EmPOWER Maryland not only saved Marylanders $4 billion since 2008, but also kept electricity rates lower for everyone and eliminated the need for new power plants.

We’ve created a two-page guide listing the seven amazing grant and rebate programs every Marylander can undertake to start reducing their waste. Big mansion or cozy town home, limited income or flush with cash, city or rural — the question to consider is: Why are you wasting significant money on electricity and natural gas each month?

Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration initiated EmPOWER Maryland in 2008. The goals were to reduce per-capita electricity use by 15 percent, fund a pot of money to support energy efficiency programs and require Maryland’s five utilities to use two percent less electricity each year thereafter.

Every Maryland home, business and nonprofit funds EmPOWER Maryland through a small surcharge based on usage. The surcharge funds the energy saving programs that our state’s five utilities manage.

EmPOWER Maryland expired in 2016, which left the program in limbo. Word got out that the Hogan administration was grumbling about the monthly surcharge everyone paid. The General Assembly stepped in and codified EmPOWER Maryland. Hogan hasn’t yet signed the bill into law, but he also hasn’t veto it. If he doesn’t act on it, it’ll be become law within a month.

This may be why the governor didn’t veto the law: EmPOWER Maryland is working.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy published the report “Maryland Benefits: Examining the Results of EmPOWER Maryland through 2015.” Some highlights on EmPOWER Maryland:

  1. Four billion dollars in customer utility bill savings since inception — the gift that keeps on giving.
  2. A 2:1 benefit ratio. Every $1 invested generated $1.81 in benefits. 
  3. Reduced electricity use by 51 million MWh at about 850,000 households in five years.
  4. In 2015 alone, saved electricity equaled the output of four (4!) large power plants.
  5. Added 2,000 jobs and contributed $80 million into state GDP in 2011 alone.
  6. Less fossil fuel burned reduced air pollution and toxins, helping our climate. 

Here’s the kicker: Everyone gains when collective electricity usage is reduced. Even folks who paid into EmPOWER Maryland, yet never accessed a dime of the rebates, benefited because Maryland’s overall electricity rates fell as a result of EmPOWER Maryland. The report concluded lower electricity demand meant fewer power lines, transformers and power plants were needed. Add to this that BGE didn’t need to buy pricey peak summer electricity on scorcher days because we collectively lowered demand through BGE’s Peak Rewards and Energy Saver Days.

How Do I Access EmPOWER Maryland?

It can be tricky to learn about the many free rebates and grants offered to Marylanders. And, let’s be honest, we’re all busy, and leisure time trumps switching out lightbulbs. But if your home energy report contains unhappy faces, you are wasting energy unnecessarily, and the seven programs will help. 

Maryland’s Seven Amazing Energy Efficiency Programs (pdf format for Guide)

  1. Retrofit Baltimore, part of Civic Works
    Benefits: All BGE customers
    If you pay a BGE bill, consider contacting Retrofit Baltimore. This service is free and staffed by bright AmeriCorp Energy Advisors who offer step-by-step energy efficiency guidance. Retrofit Baltimore knows the programs listed below inside and out. Whether you want a quick home check and all the free energy efficiency swag, or you’re going to have a home energy audit and fix possible issues, you’ll get expert help. The energy assessments and retrofit upgrades are provided by high-performing contractors vetted and screened by Retrofit Baltimore. Call 410-929-6139.
  2. Baltimore Energy Challenge
    Benefits: Baltimore City residents
    At a minimum, call Baltimore Energy Challenge at 443-869-2614 and schedule a home visit. The team will install a free programmable thermostat, energy-efficient CFL or LED light bulbs, water-saving fixtures, hot water pipe wraps, power strips, a CO2/smoke detector and more. Any Baltimore City homeowner or tenant residing in a house or apartment can participate. This program is a joint partnership between Civic Works, the Baltimore Community Foundation and the Baltimore City Office of Sustainability.
  3. BGE Quick Home Energy Check-up
    Benefits: All BGE customers
    If you live outside of Baltimore City, a similar program to the Baltimore Energy Challenge is BGE’s Quick Home Energy Check-Up. Call 877-685-7377 or fill out this form to schedule a visit. After a walk through, your BGE check-up rep will install for free up to 12 CFLs (all types), one LED, four faucet aerators, two efficient-flow fixed or handheld shower heads, water heater pipe insulation and tank wrap, Smart Strips and a ShowerStart shower head adapter. Be sure to ask your energy consultant about the more comprehensive Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program, described below.
  4. Baltimore City LIGHT program
    Benefits: Baltimore City homeowners with qualifying income (see chart below)
    Call 410-396-3023 to connect with a LIGHT program coordinator. LIGHT is the main call center for Baltimore City’s many limited income energy efficiency grant programs. After a quick assessment of your situation, your case coordinator will explain the many free programs available to weatherizeyour home, including furnace replacement if you qualify. See LIGHT’s income requirements to the right. Income levels are the maximum amount based on how many adults live in the home.
  5. Maryland Low Income Energy Efficiency Program
    Benefits: All Marylanders outside Baltimore City who meet qualified income (see chart)
    Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development is the lead administrator for limited income energy efficiency programs outside of Baltimore City’s LIGHT program. Call 855-583-8976 to reach an energy efficiency consultant who can help you access the EmPOWER Maryland low-income programs. Most likely, you will need to leave a voicemail, but an agent will call you back.
  6. EmPOWER Maryland – BGE Smart Energy
    Benefits: All BGE customers
    If your income exceeds the maximums for the LIGHT or Md. Low Income Efficiency programs, you can access the EmPOWER Maryland rebates ($4,300 maximum) on your own. If you contact Retrofit Baltimore above, they understand and access this same program, so you won’t miss out on the rebates.
    EmPOWER Maryland is a state-level initiative aimed at reducing Maryland’s electricity usage 25 percent by 2020. Each month, all Maryland utility customers pay a small surcharge (based on usage) that funds the EmPOWER Maryland demand reduction and energy efficiency programs. Each of the five utilities manage the initiatives, and BGE’s program is BGE Smart Energy program.
    Take advantage of lighting discounts, appliance rebates, heating and cooling system rebates and the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program.
    Invest the $100 in the whole house energy audit – you will be amazed at what you learn about your home’s energy systems. Then, check out the rebates available to you for projects like insulation, air sealing and duct sealing. Smart Energy rebates may not cover the full cost of certain retrofit projects, so consider Maryland’s Be SMART Home below.
  7. Be SMART Home loan program
    Who: All Maryland homeowners
    This Be SMART Home program is hard to beat because loans for home projects can be expensive and hard-to-find. If you meet the eligibility standards — verification of income, credit score of at least 640 and a debt-to-income ratio of up to 50 percent — you may be able to borrow up to $30,000 at 4.99 percent interest to pay any balances needed to complete weatherization projects. That includes financing heating and cooling systems!
This is your goal. Imagine the extra cash flow if you reduced your BGE bill by 30 percent?
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Laurel Peltier

Laurel Peltier writes the environment GreenLaurel column every Thursday in the Baltimore Fishbowl.

One reply on “The Seven (Mostly Free) EmPOWER Maryland Offers You May Be Missing”

  1. I am so glad Baltimore Fishbowl covered the renewal of the Empower Maryland law! This is a great article and it explains the various programs beautifully! As someone who works for a Trade Allied Partner (Zerodraft MD) that implements these programs for all Maryland utilities, I can vouch for the important benefits provided through Empower Maryland – not just electricity but water conservation as well. I hope everyone who reads this will take advantage of the terrific opportunities provided for homeowners – and for businesses as well!

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