The Home Star program, which could jumpstart a national revolution in residential energy efficiency, is one tiny step closer to becoming law.

The House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment on Wednesday passed the Home Star Energy Retrofit Act of 2010, which could create 168,000 jobs by investing up to $6 billion in residential energy efficiency retrofits in communities across America.  Democrats on the panel had to fight off several Republican attempts to weaken or delay the proposal, but Home Star now heads to the full House Energy and Commerce Committee for further consideration.

Across the country, communities are struggling under the weight of unemployment, our energy bills are getting higher, and the world is waiting for the U.S. to make real progress on addressing the climate crisis.  Meanwhile, it has been frustrating to watch the debate on climate and energy legislation unfold.  We are battling the entrenched special interests and the mega-powers of dirty coal and oil, and have had to wait for the U.S. Congress to take action on these crucial issues.

Improving efficiency and saving energy through building retrofit programs is the cheapest, easiest, and fastest way to cut carbon pollution and put Americans back to work.  Energy efficiency is an immediate opportunity for us to begin building a clean-energy economy that addresses both our economic and energy crises.

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Some cities are already leading the way and seeing the benefits.  Green For All partnered with the City of Portland and other groups to create a groundbreaking initiative to conduct energy efficiency retrofits on a large scale.  Clean Energy Works Portland will retrofit an estimated 100,000 homes and is already serving as a model for other programs in cities across the country.  The program uses Recovery Act funds not just to stimulate short-term economic activity, but to lay the foundation for long-term economic, environmental and community health.  Stimulating the energy efficiency market through Home Star would have a similar effect.

Here’s how it works: Homeowners could take advantage of the program through two types of incentives.  The Silver Star program offers rebates for specified energy saving measures such as insulation or windows, up to $3,000 or 50 percent of total project cost.  This would be an automatic rebate at the point-of-sale, so consumers save on upfront costs.  The Gold Star program includes a comprehensive energy audit and determines rebate levels based on energy savings achieved through efficiency measures, up to $8,000 or 50 percent of total project cost.  Rebates would flow through contractors, once again avoiding upfront consumer cost.

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As Home Star advances in Congress, there is an opportunity for community organizations to educate homeowners about the many benefits of energy efficiency retrofits.  This is particularly true for low-income homeowners, who may need help financing the remaining cost of retrofits, and who can benefit from targeted outreach and education.

Home retrofits provide the opportunity for us to directly and quickly cut carbon pollution and create jobs.  Together, we can all cut millions of tons of carbon emissions, immediately lower our out-of-pocket energy costs, and, at the same time, bring much-needed jobs to our communities.