Zimmerman: It pays to go electric in 2023
Kern Solar and Battery Storage Project. Photo courtesy of San Jose.

    2023 is the year to go electric. The Inflation Reduction Act includes generous rebates and tax incentives for installing solar appliances, weatherizing your home, purchasing an electric vehicle (EV) or doing energy efficiency retrofits. San Jose residents should take advantage of these incentives to make the leap to electric, reduce their electricity bill and improve their overall health.

    For those in low- or middle-income households, the Inflation Reduction Act makes a focused effort to remove barriers to electrification. Upfront rebates for approved expenses means some households will not have to foot the initial costs of transitioning to electric. Starting later this year, upfront rebates, which include installation, will be available up to the tune of $14,000.

    Heat pumps reduce pollution and cut costs

    Your first step should be switching out your gas furnace for a heat pump. While not the most glamorous of upgrades, this transition is the most impactful individual change someone can make to reduce their carbon footprint.

    Heat pumps are three to five times more efficient than traditional heating methods, last for between 10 to 15 years and can potentially save homeowners hundreds of dollars per year. Heat pumps are now the best chance we have to phase out fossil fuels as a means of heating. For those worried about how they function in different climates, heat pumps have advanced considerably in the last few years and now work efficiently just about everywhere.

    According to an article on CNBC, the Inflation Reduction Act covers 100% of the cost of a heat pump for low-income households up to $8,000. For moderate-income households, it covers 50% up to the same dollar limit. This means many people can get heat pumps at half the regular price or even free since the average cost of a heat pump including installation is $5,500.

    There’s no reason not to make these switches. The incentives are impressive, and heat pumps have the potential to halve your electricity bill and reduce your carbon emissions. It’s a win-win transition.

    Electric vehicles on the road forward

    Often maligned as the vehicles of the “woke” elite, EVs have now become mainstream. Today, the cost of purchasing and maintaining an EV is now commensurate to that of a traditional combustion vehicle. Seriously, see this in-depth cost of ownership comparison done by Car and Driver that gives a breakdown of costs over a three-year period.

    Most new EVs are now eligible for a $7,500 rebate, with used electric vehicles eligible for a rebate of $4,000. However, these incentives are based on income and how much of the vehicle was made in the United States. You can find the full list of requirements on the IRS website.

    EVs also offer longer-term savings, as they require much less maintenance and a full charge costs about a third of a tank of gas.

    Arguments that EVs are just as bad for the environment as gas-powered vehicles are misplaced. True, EVs use electricity which can be sourced from fossil fuels. However, San Jose Clean Energy offers 100% green energy options to mitigate this impact. At least some of the energy grid is renewable, whereas none of the fuel you put in your vehicle is.

    Concerned owners can also install solar panels and charge their vehicles at home for free and with zero carbon emissions. For those who don’t own their own homes, you can mitigate this concern further by charging during the day when solar energy is cheap and plentiful.

    Furthermore, recent state legislation and funding provided by the federal government will further strengthen and expand EV infrastructure. Expect to see 100 million new chargers across the United States. Within Silicon Valley, the Peninsula-Silicon Valley Incentive Project is also providing $55.2 million in funding for the purchase and installation of EV chargers in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.

    Solar power

    As part of the Inflation Reduction Act, homeowners can get up to a 30% rebate on the cost of solar installation.

    For low-income families, there are several additional options. If you are on a low or fixed income and live in certain disadvantaged communities, you may qualify for GRID Alternatives, a program that provides solar installation at no cost.

    Unfortunately, the California Public Utilities Commission recently changed the rules of net energy metering, so either get on the solar train quickly so you can arrange to be grandfathered in under the old rules, or be sure to take advantage of new incentives for adding battery storage along with your solar installation.

    If you don’t own your home, you can still take advantage of California’s renewable options, including solar, by opting into San Jose Clean Energy’s TotalGreen plan.

    For more information on how to take advantage of the incentives created by the Inflation Reduction Act, see the Rewiring America website.

    San José Spotlight columnist Erin Zimmerman is a climate reality leader with the Climate Reality Project’s Silicon Valley chapter. Erin, a long-time environmental and political activist, holds a PhD in political science. Her column appears every third Wednesday of the month. Contact Erin at [email protected].

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