Home Remodeling Projects That Can Reward You At Tax Time

As anyone who has ever tackled a home renovation project knows quite well, it can be both an exciting and stressful time. Although it is nice to look forward to an updated bathroom or kitchen or new set of windows, it can also be a pricey project that takes up a lot of time and money.

Fortunately, there are several home improvement projects that will reward people with a reduction in their taxes, or a credit or rebate. For homeowners who are interested in earning some green while making their homes more green in the process, the following resources offer information about the types of tax credits and rebates that are available:

The Internal Revenue Service

For anyone who is interested in tax rebate info, the IRS website is a great place to start. The site reports that people who made home improvements that made the residence more energy-efficient may qualify for a home energy tax credit. For example, the Non-Business Energy Property Credit is worth 10 percent of the cost of specific products that were used in a home. These include roofs, doors, windows and more. In addition, depending on what types of systems were installed, homeowners may also quality for a credit on HVAC units and water heaters. In order to get the tax credit, homeowners need to have written proof from the manufacturer that their product qualifies for the credit. This is important information to have when April 15 rolls around and taxes are due.

ENERGY STAR

The ENERGY STAR website is also a wonderful resource for people who are trying to choose the most energy-efficient remodeling projects for their home that will also reward them with a refund. For homeowners who are interested in switching from traditional power to solar power will find tax credit info on the ENERGY STAR site. Right now, the tax credit is worth 30 percent of the cost, with no upper limit. The same tax credit is also available on geothermal heat pumps and small wind turbines that are made for residential use.

In addition, homeowners who are hoping to replace their old windows with more energy-efficient models can often find information about possible rebates through the specific window company they are hiring to do the work. For example, Champion Home Exteriors is dedicated to offering homeowners replacement windows that will make the home more energy-efficient and save homeowners money on their heating and cooling bills. As a result, the Champion Home Exteriors website features helpful information about the ENERGY STAR label, and the company also sells windows that feature the trusted rating.

Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency

When it comes to learning what different renovation projects will allow in terms of rebates and tax credits, the DSIRE website is a one-stop information shop. The website, which is the most comprehensive source of helpful advice and info on energy-related incentives, is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. The site includes information on all 50 states. Homeowners can simply click on their state to be taken to another page that features a long list of incentives, tax credits and other information on a wide variety of home improvements. For example, clicking on Texas brings up a long list of financial incentives that homeowners throughout the state may take advantage of, including the LoanSTAR Revolving Loan Program, and Utility Rebate Program information for different power companies.

Houston’s Electric Utility Reaping Windfall Profits, Asking For More

The Texas Coalition for Affordable Power (TCAP), a consumer advocacy group, reports that Houston company CenterPoint Energy is pulling in tens of millions of dollars in excess profits, and Houston’s electrical customers are the ones paying the bill.

Texas is a “Power to Choose” state, in which deregulation has opened the electric utility sector to commercial competition. The thinking is that if providers have to compete for customers, the market will decide whether a company sinks or swims, depending on how much customers like and trust them. If customers feel that they are not being treated fairly or that prices are unreasonable, they can switch to a different provider. However, CenterPoint Energy is exempt from this fray: Because it does not provide power directly to customers but is instead a transmission and distribution provider, CenterPoint is not subject to the market and is in fact a monopoly, with no competition. Texas’s Public Utility Commission allows charges to be automatically added to the electric bills of over 2 million customers to cover CenterPoint’s expenses–and allow a profit.

How much of a profit is supposed to be controlled, but CenterPoint has exceeded the authorized rate of return, currently 10%, instead seeing returns in excess of 11 – 12% or more. That may seem like a small difference, but in fact it translated to $46.5 million in excess revenue just in 2013 and may have exceeded $175 million in excess proceeds over the past three years, according to TCAP. CenterPoint is making no attempt to downplay this windfall, boasting to its investors in a June 30th meeting about the company’s profits and freely acknowledging that they were in excess of the allowable amount. When asked about the excess profits by the Houston Chronicle, a company vice president acknowledged the amount, stating that they wanted to earn as much as they could for their investors.

CenterPoint is so enthusiastic about turning profits for its investors that, despite the large amount of profits that it has recently received, the company is seeking a rate increase for 2015. TCAP reports that CenterPoint’s lobbyists have additionally been pushing for less municipal oversight, as cities have traditionally been a regulatory watchdog for the rights of utility consumers. CenterPoint is known to be a top political contributor to the Texas legislature and is reported to have spent around a million dollars on lobby contracts during the legislature’s 2013 session.

 

Texas Power Consumer Complaints On The Rise, Reports TCAP

A recent analysis by the consumer advocacy group Texas Coalition for Affordable Power (TCAP) shows that consumer complaints filed with the state’s Public Utility Commission (PUC) have risen again in 2014, after four years of decline.

In 2002, Texas became a “Power To Choose” state, and deregulation of the electric utility sector began. Following its commencement, consumer complaints spiked, going from an annual total of more than 2,000 in 2001 to 8,500 the following year, and 17,250 in the first full year of deregulation. In 2009, the total number of complaints was still nearly 16,000, but a decline began that bottomed out at 7,129 in 2013, a considerable drop from the post-deregulation spike but still a 300% increase over pre-deregulation totals. In 2014, the figure has risen to 7,608.

The downward trend for complaints in the prior few years could be attributed to customers’ becoming more familiar with navigating the different available plans and the process of switching providers to get the best fit, thereby cutting down on dissatisfaction. It could also simply be because low prices for natural gas kept electricity rates correspondingly low, and people are less likely to complain if they don’t feel they are paying too much. JD Power and Associates, a company that rates customer satisfaction, issued a report last year showing that customer satisfaction with power providers was at an all-time high since deregulation, and that customers in deregulated areas of Texas were more satisfied than customers in areas of the state that were not yet deregulated. It’s easy to reason that opening up the field to retail competition would tend to encourage good customer service, lest people flock to another provider.

So what explains the uptick in complaints, for the first time in four years? One culprit, single-handedly responsible for 7.5% of complaints, is “switch-holds”, a controversial practice instituted in 2010 that froze customers’ ability to switch to another power company until they settled outstanding bills owed to their current provider. Also, 11% of the complaints filed have been about meters. This figure may correlate to the rollout of new digital “smart meters”, as complaints tend to surge when new rules or equipment are introduced, according to a PUC spokesman. Other possible factors, according to industry representatives, may be the growing population of Texas and the ease of filing complaints online, but TCAP still notes that complaints are considerably higher now than before deregulation and notes that the situation is still “worth monitoring”, as it seems customers are still showing frustration with the market.

See Also: Texas Electricity Providers Perform Well In Survey

 

 

University of Texas-San Antonio Releases Report on Economic Impact of Eagle Ford Shale

In a report released by the University of Texas-San Antonio (UTSA) entitled “Economic Impact of the Eagle Ford Shale”, researchers from the Center for Community and Business Research at the University’s Institute for Economic Development found that extraction of oil, condensate, and natural gas from the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas generated over $87 billion in total economic output for Texas in 2013, including $42.8 billion in gross regional product for the 21 counties involved in the study.

In 2013, shale activity from Eagle Ford provided over $4.4 billion to state and local governments and supported almost 155,000 jobs, and UTSA projected that over the next ten years, the industry will support as many as 196,660 full-time-equivalent jobs and generate more than $137 billion for the region, far exceeding the $89 billion originally projected for 2022 in last March’s report. UTSA explains that the upward adjustment was a result of a continued rise in production that has exceeded expectations, as well as growth in the development of support industries such as refineries, processing and ports, among others.

Production from the Eagle Ford Shale has grown exponentially; oil and condensate production rose from 581 barrels per day in 2008 to over 1.1 million barrels per day as of June 2014, and natural gas production puts up equally impressive numbers, at more than 4 billion cubic feet per day. The report covers 21 counties that benefit economically from development in the Eagle Ford Shale; in addition to the 15 most directly-involved counties, in which 3,311 wells were actively producing in 2013, there are six surrounding counties that have seen a boom in economic growth from the development of related service and support industries.

The forecast for continued healthy growth has attracted more capital investment to Eagle Ford than to any other shale field in the country. Robert McKinley, UTSA Associate VP for Economic Development, said the revenue would provide the ability to develop and improve infrastructure that would benefit rural communities, such as roads, schools, broadband internet, and medical facilities. The report cautions that these infrastructure improvements are vital to the sustainability of communities in the region and recommends that community leaders should actively partner with state legislators to ensure that those communities can get support from revenue sources such as the Economic Stabilization Fund and from allowable city and county taxes.

The report also recommends that area communities should consider aesthetics, as well, and perhaps attempt diversification in less industrial-feeling investments, like olive farming and olive oil production, tourism, and recreation, to keep their surroundings attractive and enjoyable. Keeping the needs of local residents in mind rather than just focusing on the very impressive numbers will ensure that stability and economic success are long-lasting not just for investors, but for the whole community.

See Also:  U.S. / Texas Oil Reserves At Highest Levels In Decades

 

Texas Electricity Providers Perform Well In Survey

Green Mountain Energy has taken the top spot in the JD Power 2014 Retail Electric Provider Residential Customer Satisfaction Study.  The study, now in its seventh year, surveys electric customers in Texas and several other deregulated electricity states.  Using the data they rank providers on a number of factors and generate an overall score for each company on a 1,000 point scale.

Ranking factors include price, communications, corporate citizenship, enrollment, customer service, and billing/payment.  The results were good news not just for Green Mountain but the Texas electricity market as a whole.   Green Mountain’s overall score of 762 was compared to the state average of 706.  The Texas state average was the highest of any state in the study.

Overall satisfaction of the Texas electricity market continues to improve as this year’s average of 706 was 24 point higher than in 2013.  This trend applies to other states in the survey.  Customer satisfaction across many states improved despite high electricity bills in many parts of the country because of a cold winter.   JD Power attributes the improvement in customer sentiment partly to improved communications.

Green Mountain Energy also points to its improved customer communications as a factor in the company’s top score in this year’s survey.  According to a statement on the company’s website:

“Over the last year, Green Mountain introduced key enhancements to its website, bills, and enrollment process to make it easier for customers to learn about renewable energy and how they’re helping to preserve and protect the environment.”

Champion Energy, who ranked at #1 in the study the past several years, had another strong showing achieving the second highest score of 759.  Green Mountain and Champion were the only two Texas electricity providers to obtain a Power Circle Rating of 5 out of 5 from JD Power.

Several providers where given a 4 out of 5 rating including Cirro Energy, StarTex Power, and Bounce Energy.  The most common ranking was a 3 out of 5 which included Direct Energy, Reliant Energy, First Choice Power, and TXU Energy.

See Also: Complaints In Texas Electricity Market Drop Again
See Also: 2013 Survey Results
See Also: 2012 Survey Results

 

A Trio Of Smart Cities: How Technology Makes Them More Efficient

A smart city is one that is currently testing or regularly using information, communications and technology (ICT) solutions in at least three areas, states IHS. These can include areas like transportation, safety, energy and the physical infrastructure of the city. It is estimated that the number of smart cities will rise dramatically over the next decade with projects in the U.S. and Europe embracing these energy-efficient solutions.

Currently, there are some cities in the United States that have adopted smarter and more efficient technological systems. For example, consider the following trio:

New York City

The Big Apple has been working towards a smart city mindset for some time. For example, they have already implemented a program called City 24/7, which is an interactive platform that combines data from government programs, residents and businesses to offer information to people at all hours of the day, notes Cisco. The City 24/7 smart screens combine touch, voice and audio commands to let people know about important information and services in the immediate area. In addition, people can access the smart screens through Wi-Fi on their own mobile devices. So, if you are visiting New York City and are trying to figure out where you should go for dinner, you can access reviews of local bars and restaurants that are in your immediate area as well as get discounts on meals right on your smartphone.

Another project that is helping make New York a smart city is Hudson Yards, located in Manhattan. The massive, 28-acre residential and commercial project will feature amazing and innovative systems like pneumatic tubes that are installed underground and will take garbage out of the area. In addition, Hudson Yards will feature technology that will allow it to keep tabs on air quality and energy consumption.

San Francisco

The leaders and citizens of San Francisco have been working hard for years to make the city as smart as possible, Freshome notes. For example, the city currently gets over 40 percent of its power from renewable energy sources, and there are a whopping 110 public charging stations for electric vehicles—the highest number in the country. In addition, San Francisco is working hard to make its public transportation system as user-friendly and accessible as possible. There are now more trains and buses than ever, and apps available through the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency offer real-time updates about commutes and other related information. The city also offers its citizens an impressive number of free Wi-Fi spots; for example, on Market Street in downtown, there are 3 miles straight of Wi-Fi hotspots.

Boston

Like San Francisco, Boston has been trying to use technology to boost the quality of life for its residents and visitors. For example, the city features Soofas, which are benches that use solar power to keep tabs on air quality and noise levels as well as to charge mobile devices and other items. Additionally, the Boston Department of Innovation and Technology has launched five apps that help residents do anything from finding parking to helping parents keep tabs on their child’s school bus. Boston also posts maps that identify some of the city’s “Wicked Free” Wi-Fi locations.

Change The Little Things For A Greener Planet

Nearly everyday there are stories out there about greenhouse gases, carbon emissions and environmental challenges. The issue most of us face is how to combat these startling statistics and help create a better future.

Do the Little Things

There are little things we can all do to make our homes and lives more energy efficient including:

  • Unplugging appliances when you leave a room.
  • Making sure you turn everything off when you are out of the house.
  • Putting appliances on one power strip so it is easier and more effective to turn off the power strip rather than unplugging each individual item.
  • Turning off appliances completely because standby mode wastes energy.
  • Going on energy saving plans through your power provider to save yourself money and the planet.
  • Trading out all of your light bulbs for energy efficient CFLs (compact fluorescent light bulbs).
  • Keeping your refrigerator cold and making sure the seals are current to prevent energy loss.

Update Your Heating and Cooling

Did you know that nearly half of the energy spent in your home goes towards heating and cooling costs? ENERGY STAR suggests keeping your HVAC units clean and updated. Changing your air filters regularly also will make a difference in the air flowing through your home and how your system runs. Additionally, you should get your HVAC system tuned up to ensure things are running smoothly once a year.

Upgrade Your Windows

Another topic to consider is the type of windows you have installed in your home.You can install energy efficient screens and windows to help maintain the temperature in your home. If you don’t want to buy new windows, Energy.gov suggests caulking or weatherstripping around the frames to prevent leaking caused by rain or other moisture as well as the escape of heating and air conditioning. If you are interested in energy efficient windows, do your research. There are many types to choose from including awning, casement, hopper and sliding. If you aren’t sure what works best for your home, contact a professional that can help you select the right type for your needs as well as help you with the installation process.

Consider Window Accessories

Installing awnings outside of your windows can help keep your house cool and create a nice shaded area in your yard. Awnings don’t have to be just practical either, but can serve as a design opportunity.

Similarly, window treatments offer energy efficiency and are cheaper than buying and installing new windows. Ask yourself: What window treatments am I using in my home? Is the drapery energy efficient? If the answer is no, you can make the switch with ease. There is such a wide variety of energy efficient blinds and drapery for the home. Try implementing solar shades, roman shades, drapes, blinds or vertical systems. Remember, saving energy can be beautiful. Create a comfortable, wonderfully designed home while doing your part to keep the planet clean.

Don’t make saving energy a daunting task. Try these small tips to help make the world a better place.

Infrastructure Upgrades Mean Texas No Longer Wasting Wind Power

According to a report by the Energy Information Administration, curtailments of wind generated electricity in Texas have dropped steadily and substantially since 2011 thanks mostly to the state’s completion of 3,500 miles of transmission lines as part of the Competitive Renewable Energy Zones program.  A curtailment refers to an event where a power plant is asked to slow or stop feeding electricity to the grid.  This happens when the supply of electricity greatly outweighs the current demand for electricity.  When this happens electricity production has to be reduced (curtailed) in order to keep an oversupply of power from causing a disruption of the power grid.

Because wholesale electricity prices in Texas are allowed to fluctuate based on real-time market demand, prices for wind generated electricity have in the past sometimes gone negative.  This creates the odd circumstance where wind power producers actually pay market participants to accept their electricity.  This is only really possible in the world of wind power because federal production credits pay wind producers for every kilowatt of power they produce and sell to the grid; even if they are selling the power for a negative price.  Instances of negative pricing have also dropped substantially since the CREZ project was completed.

Texas experienced a boom in wind capacity from 2006-2009 resulting in the production of over 7,000 megawatts of wind capacity.  Since most of these wind turbines were built in West Texas and most of the state’s population is in the eastern part of the state, Texas experienced what is known as transmission congestion.  There weren’t enough large power lines and transmission equipment to get the power from the western part of the state to where it was needed in places like Dallas / Fort Worth, Waco, and Austin.

In an effort to address this imbalance between the available supply in the west and the demand in the east, the Texas Public Utility Commission in 2008 created a plan which established 5 zones where there was a lot of wind power in place or the potential for a lot of wind power.  These were called Competitive Renewable Energy Zones.  They then authorized a large number of projects to build massive new power lines to carry this electricity to the state’s businesses and homes.

The projects completed in 2013 with a total cost of around $7 billion.  Now that the Texas grid has the capacity to effectively move West Texas wind power across the state, curtailments of wind power have been substantially reduced, and occurrences of negative pricing have all but disappeared.  For 2013 wind generation in Texas was up 13%.

 

World’s Largest Carbon Capture Facility To Be Built Near Houston

The world’s largest carbon capture facility is coming to Texas.  The US Department of Energy has announced that work will soon begin a project to capture up to 90% of the carbon emissions from the W.A, Parish Generating Station; a coal-fired power plant southwest of Houston Texas.   Once captured, the CO2 will be pumped underground at the West Ranch oil field.

Pumping the CO2 underground will serve two purposes.  By injecting CO2 into pockets of hard to extract oil, the oil is liberated in a way that makes it easier to extract.  The process also results in the CO2 being sequestered underground rather than being released into the atmosphere.

The CO2 will be captured by processing the power plant’s exhaust gas through a solution of amines.  The amines will bind with the Co2 allowing it to be separated from the sulfates.  Later the amine solution will be heated; a process which releases the CO2.  The amine is recycled while the CO2 is pressurized and piped to the oil field where it will be used to help extract the hard to reach oil.

The West Ranch oil field, which has been in operation for over 75 years, has seen its production rates fall through conventional production techniques.  The carbon dioxide will reduce the oil’s viscosity and force it out of tight spots where it can be more easily extracted.   The oil will them be processed to remove any CO2 that has become mixed with the oil.  The CO2 can then be re-injected into the ground.

The size of the project was scaled up from original plans and will now entail capturing the CO2 from 240 MW of electricity production, making it the largest such operation in the world.   The DOE will be providing financial assistance for the project, whose principals include a subsidiary of NRG Energy.  NRG Energy is the parent company of Reliant Energy, a Texas electricity provider.

Although coal has long been the predominate source of electricity generation in the U.S., it has seen its market share slide in recent years as the abundance  of cheap natural gas has created a cheaper and cleaner alternative.   In Texas, the natural gas boom has helped electricity rates fall substantially since their highs in 2008.

See Also:  U.S. / Texas Oil Reserves At Highest Levels In Decades
See Also: Largest Federal Wind Farm To Be Built In Texas
See Also:  Reliant Energy Rates in Houston

 

Increased Reports Of Scammers Posing As Your Electricity Provider

**ALERT**  THERE HAS RECENTLY BEEN A HUGE JUMP IN THE NUMBER OF REPORTS OF SCAMMERS POSING AS YOUR ELECTRICITY PROVIDER CALLING TO GET YOUR CREDIT/DEBIT CARD INFORMATION.

The scam artists are pretending to be from your electric company, and are threatening to disconnect your electricity if you do not pay your bill immediately over the phone.

Many of these scammers even have the ability to fool your phone’s Caller ID, so that the electricity provider’s name shows up on the phone’s screen.

The thieves are targeting residential and commercial electricity users across the country, but seem to be focusing on the states that are currently experiencing elevated temperatures.

The best action to take is to disconnect the call, then call your energy provider using the phone number printed on a recently electric bill and inform them of the scam attempt.