Oregon has initiated a reward program for heat pumps with the aim of facilitating the shift towards renewable energy for an important group – tenants.

The Oregon Rental Home Heat Pump program, recently unveiled by the state’s Energy Department, extends rebates to property owners who install energy-saving heat pumps and electric enhancements in their rental properties using certified contractors. All tenants, regardless of whether they inhabit individual rooms, full houses, apartment complexes, mobile homes, or RVs, are eligible.
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This scheme was set into motion the previous year via the state’s Senate Bill 1536, in response to extreme heatwaves in 2021 that resulted in a minimum of 96 deaths in Oregon.

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The main objective, according to Doug Baer, the senior analyst for ODOE’s incentive program, is to offer tenants some respite during periods of extreme weather, and potentially reduce energy costs.

He asserted, “The main idea is to ensure that in a severe heatwave, a person has a cooling facility, irrespective of whether it’s their living area, lounge, or bedroom. There would be a certain section of their space where they can experience some cooling comfort.”

In 2021, numerous heat-related fatalities occurred as people were alone in their homes without air conditioning. Heat pump programs are crucial, particularly for tenants, as the climate emergency escalates, and we see an increase in extreme weather incidents. Tenants are more susceptible to such weather conditions because they do not always have the option to make enhancements to their rented spaces. Furthermore, they are frequently overlooked when it comes to the billions in federal rebates directed towards climate action for homeowners.

Before this scheme, Baer pointed out that landlords lacked incentives to install heat pumps or air conditioning units for their tenants.

Baer also emphasized that tenants who installed their own window AC units faced safety risks. Older buildings might not have been equipped to manage the extra electric load, and a loose window unit could potentially drop and cause injury.

He revealed, “In many locations, it was outrightly prohibited, hence they couldn’t install a window AC or similar. A significant number of rented residences simply didn’t have any cooling amenities.”

He now asserts that any dwelling can qualify, with the exception of hotels, hostels, or short-term rental places such as Airbnbs.

The rebate amounts within the program are variable. Landlords may receive a maximum of $5,000 for installing an energy-efficient heat pump in a residence. Additional rewards are available if the tenant falls under the low- or moderate-income category. For a mobile dwelling or RV, the incentive amount can reach up to $7,000.

These rebates can also be applied to the complete electrical and HVAC system if necessary.

State Representative Pam Marsh, a Democrat from Ashland, joined forces with several legislators to help draft and pass legislation in the package.

She believes the cooling unit rebate program signifies progress for climate action and resilience. Marsh asserts that it enables all inhabitants to reap the benefits of enhanced energy efficiency.

“The typical energy efficiency programs are geared towards homeowners, considering tenants are often unable to rationalize or afford upgrades to a residence they do not own,” she noted. “This results in approximately 40% of us as tenants residing in homes equipped with inefficient heating and cooling systems and astronomical utility bills.”

Marsh, who serves as the Chair of the Oregon House Committee on Climate, Energy, and the Environment, noted that the scheme provides landlords with the necessary resources to finance potentially significant upgrades for their tenants. Air Conditioning Eugene

The scheme collaborates directly with contractors. Landlords need to get in touch with certified contractors to initiate a project. The rebate will be remunerated to the contractor who will subsequently transfer the savings to the property owner.

Robert Hamerly, the CEO of Greensavers, an approved contractor on the ODOE’s list, revealed that he already has some clients embarking on the process.

He said, “Our plan is to run a few of the projects we already have in mind, extract learnings from those experiences, and then devise a strategy for outreach.”

Hamerly admitted that it’s a learning curve for everyone involved, as the program is novel. Thorough comprehension of the process is key to success and increasing its appeal to landlords.

However, Hamerly also admitted that there’s still a long way to go in helping tenants.

He concluded, “If we manage to reach even 10% or 20% of the apartments in need, then we’re significantly better off than before.”
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