By Darlene Superville
Savannah, Ga. — Sounding a familiar clean-energy theme, President Barack Obama on Tuesday announced details of a proposed energy rebate program aimed at spurring demand for insulation and water heaters — and jobs for hurting Americans.
Obama said the so-called Home Star program would reward people who buy energy-saving equipment with an on-the-spot rebate of $1,000 or more. He cast the idea as one that would save people money on utility bills, boost the economy and reduce American dependence on oil.
The plan would take the approval of Congress.
“When it comes to domestic policy, I have no more important job as president than seeing to it that every American that wants to work and is able to work can find a job,” Obama said at Savannah Technical College, in a state where the unemployment rate tops the national average of 9.7 percent.
“That was my focus last year and that is my focus this year,” he said, “to lay a foundation for economic growth that creates jobs.” He appeared in Georgia three days before the government releases the February unemployment report. Speaking to the many people looking for jobs, Obama said he knows “it’s tough out there.”
Obama called for energy rebates in his State of the Union address, and officials want the plan to be as popular as last year’s Cash for Clunkers money-back program for autos.
Obama stopped at Savannah Technical College to visit students who are learning how to install insulation and other equipment.
The new program has two levels of rebates. Various vendors, ranging from small, independent contractors to national home improvement chains, would promote the rebates, give the money to consumers and then wait for reimbursement from the federal government.
Some details of the program, including how long it will run and its total cost, remain to be worked out with Congress, according to senior administration officials.
The price tag for Home Star could be in the range of $6 billion, said one official.
Cash for Clunkers was a $3 billion program that ran for about a month last year, from July 27 to Aug. 25.
Under the first level of energy rebates, to be called Silver Star, consumers would be eligible for rebates between $1,000 and $1,500 for a variety of home upgrades, including adding insulation, sealing leaky ducts and replacing water heaters, HVAC units, windows, roofing and doors. There would be a maximum rebate of $3,000 per home.
Under the second level, Gold Star, consumers who get home energy audits and then make changes designed to reduce energy costs by at least 20 percent would be eligible for a $3,000 rebate. Additional rebates would be available for savings above 20 percent.