Participation in Efficiency Kansas, which includes a revolving loan program and a home energy audit, is among the categories where Lawrence and Manhattan residents are competing against each other in the Take Charge Challenge.
The competition, which runs until fall, will see which town can save the most energy.
“This is a really important part of the challenge that Lawrence residents should look at doing if they want to help us win … and if they want to save money,” said the Lawrence Take Charge Challenge coordinator Margaret Tran.
As of now, Manhattan is in the lead.
For residents interested in participating in Efficiency Kansas through Westar Energy, an open house will be held in Topeka from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Feb. 21 at the Capitol Plaza Hotel, 1717 SW Topeka Blvd. The open house will be in the hotel’s Emerald Ballroom.
Since November, Jessi Asmussen and her husband have had a to-do list of energy efficient upgrades for their drafty 100-year-old Lawrence home.
But before they could cross anything off the list, the couple was waiting on the Kansas Corporation Commission to grant approval to Westar Energy so the utility could participate in its $38 million revolving loan program.
Earlier this month, Westar Energy announced that the KCC did just that, allowing Asmussen and hundreds of other Westar customer to take out a loan so they could make upgrades to improve their home's energy efficiency. Customers would then pay off that loan through their utility bill.
The revolving loan is part of a state program known as Efficiency Kansas, which is funded through federal stimulus dollars. When the program began more than a year ago, the intent was to reach thousands of homeowners.
So far, just 180 people have taken advantage of the state loan program.
Until now, the loans were with smaller utility companies or through banks. Those bank loans, which came with a 4 percent interest rate, often required homeowners to take out a second mortgage, have a high credit score and 20 percent or more equity in their home.
The agreement with the KCC will allow Westar customers to repay their loans through monthly installments on their Westar utility bill. Westar will use a customer's payment history when deciding whether to issue a loan.
“Utilities have a high level of confidence that customers will be able to pay on time and in full,” KCC spokeswoman Cara Sloan-Ramos said.
Before homeowners can receive a loan they must pay for a home-energy audit, which is being offered at a highly reduced cost of $100.
So far, 300 Westar customers have gone through the energy audit. And, many were like Asmussen, waiting for Westar’s loan program before making the fixes recommended in the audit.
According to an audit done last fall, Asmussen’s home first needed to have the windows sealed to keep cold air from coming inside and then the attic and exterior outlets need to be better insulated. Asmussen also hopes to replace the air conditioner.
To help cover the cost of the upgrades, the couple are taking out a $4,824 loan through Westar.
“Added to your utility bill, it becomes a very manageable bill,” Asmussen said.
Westar's loan does come with restrictions.
• Homeowners can't take out loans of more than $20,000, and small businesses can't have loans of more than $30,000.
• Customers must have had Westar service for at least 12 months at the same address.
• Applicants must be current on their bill and must not be on a payment agreement or had their service disconnected in the past 12 months.
• The loan must be paid off over 15 years.
• The loan comes with a $250 administrative fee from Westar and a monthly $2 charge from Efficiency Kansas.
• If the homeowner or tenant changes while the loan is being repaid, the debt obligation must be disclosed in writing and transferred to the new homeowner or tenant.
The program could come at a cost to other Westar customers. According to the agreement with the KCC, any of the lost revenue Westar has as a result of the energy conservation through the Efficiency Kansas program will be recovered through increasing utility bills. The KCC approved Westar's loan program for a four-year pilot period.