Tantra Coffeehouse’s rainwater collection container in front of the shop holds 1,050 gallons of water. Tantra staff said heavy rains Monday put 200 gallons into the reservoir. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
San Marcos officials plan to step up their water and electricity conservation efforts this year by giving more appliances and money to qualifying residents willing to swap out their less-efficient devices.
In 2010, for the first time, the city will offer year-long electric appliance rebate and replacement programs. The city has until now only offered year-long water device rebate and replacement programs.
City staff said San Marcos residents saved 66,023,215 gallons of water since 1995 via water rebate and replacement programs. In 2008, the last year for which city data is available, municipal water customers used 622.8 million gallons of groundwater and 1.751 billion gallons of surface water for a total of 2.374 billion gallons. Customers used an average of 6.5 million gallons per day in 2008, more than the 5.82 million gallons per day consumed in 2007. Unaccounted for water loss amounted to 11.8 percent of total use in 2008, 12 percent in 2007, 13.4 percent in 2006 and 11.9 percent in 2005.
Two of the three new appliance incentive programs are funded by a $498,100 federal Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG). City of San Marcos Conservation Coordinator Jan Klein said that probably 75 percent or more of the city’s residential units do not have energy-efficient appliances.
A new program made possible with a $21,000 grant from the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA) will allow the city to offer as much as $100 per upgraded commercial toilet to hotel and motel owners if they buy EPA WaterSense toilets
The three new electric appliance rebate and replacement programs are:
• Energy Efficient Heating/Air Conditioning (AC) Rebate Program, designed to save energy by encouraging the purchase of efficient heating and air conditioning products, including attic insulation, radiant barriers, duct sealing and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. Existing houses using city electricity will be eligible. People living in multi-family (apartment) units may be eligible depending on the results of staff meetings with local apartment owners to assess the feasibility of expanding the service. Only existing apartment buildings would be eligible if the program is offered to tenants. The incentive amount and qualifying products will vary.
• Energy Efficient Appliance Rebate Program, funded with $149,050 in EECBG money, is intended to result in energy savings by encouraging the purchase of efficient home appliances including refrigerators, dishwashers, washers, water heaters and window AC units. Existing houses using city electricity will be eligible. Those living in multi-family units may be eligible, depending on the results of staff meetings with local apartment owners to assess the feasibility of expanding the service. Only existing apartment buildings would be eligible if the program is offered to tenants. The incentive amount and qualifying products will vary.
• Energy Efficient Appliance Replacement Program, funded with $149,050 in EECBG money, is designed to save energy by funding the replacement of inefficient appliances in existing low-income homes with no more than $3,000 worth of Energy Star-rated products such as refrigerators, dishwashers, washers, water heaters and window AC units. For the purposes of the grant, at least, the city defines low-income residents using the federal standard — people at or below 200% of poverty level. Applicants must submit documentation showing that they meet the income standard. The latest federal poverty thresholds, which vary depending upon the age of people in a household and the number of children there, can be found on the U.S. Census Bureau’s website here: http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/threshld/thresh08.html.
The city currently offers the following water conservation incentive programs:
• Flush-Smart Rebate Program, which allows city water customers living in single-family (houses) or multi-family residences to receive as much as $100 for each high-volume toilets they replace with an EPA WaterSense toilet. The program was implemented in 1995, and the city has since dispensed 1,780 rebates for a savings of 22,042,044 gallons per year.
• Plumbing Retrofit Program, which allows all city water customers to receive free Niagara low-flow faucet aerators and shower heads. The program was implemented in 2001. The city has given away 4,350 shower heads and more than 10,000 aerators, for a savings of 30,477 gallons per year.
• Wash-Smart Rebate Program, which allows city water customers living in single-family residences to receive $50, $75 or $100 for purchasing Consortium for Energy Efficiency Tier 1-3 clothes washers instead of standard models. Those living in multi-family units may be eligible, depending on the results of staff meetings with local apartment owners to assess the feasibility of expanding the service. The program began in 2001. The city has given out 224 rebates for a savings of 1,558,112 gallons per year.
• Free High Efficiency Toilet (HET) Program, which allows city water customers living in single-family residences to replace their high-volume toilets with free Caroma dual-flush toilets provided by the city. The program was implemented in 2006. The city has dispensed 556 toilets for a savings of 5,340,279 gallons per year.
• Rain Barrel Rebate Program, which allows city water customers living in single-family residences to receive no more than $50 per rain barrel they purchase for use in rainwater collection systems. The program was implemented in 2009 and the city issued nine rebates.
Those interested in applying for any of the aforementioned rebate/replacement programs may contact Klein at (512) 393-8310.
This fiscal year, the city budgeted $50,000 for water rebate and replacement programs, and $90,000 for energy rebate programs, in addition to the aforementioned EAA and EECBG grant funds. Each year for the past three years, the city has budgeted about $30,000 for water rebate and replacement programs. Klein said there is never any money left over in those programs at the end of the each fiscal year.
City councilmembers directed the city’s public services department last month to implement the new conservation incentive programs and instructed staff to assess the feasibility of offering the washer rebate program to apartment tenants, who comprise the majority of San Marcos residents.
“As a student, as a geographer, who studies water conservation, one of the biggest (considerations) long-term is the aquifer,” Fidencio Leija, the council’s Texas State liaison, said to the council. “If we actually think long term, we’re talking about 35,000-plus students that are here, and if we can push those efforts onto apartment complexes, we can save tons and tons of water that will be there for the people that are coming in 10, 15, 20 years. So I think it would behoove all of us to take this effort on.”
The council also directed city staff to give preference to local contractors for work related to the Energy Efficient Heating/AC Rebate Program.
“We do want to give local people have an opportunity, but we don’t want to bog down the process and the opportunity to get things done,” said Mayor Susan Narvaiz.
The council also instructed city staff to make the new Energy Efficient Heating/AC Rebate Program and the two new electric appliance rebate/replacement programs applicable to existing buildings only, at least for now.
Klein said new buildings are not required by law to have Energy Star-rated appliances, though new construction is generally associated with more efficient devices than older structures.
“Did we ever look at, instead of picking apart different pieces of the puzzle to work on, just say ‘You’ve got an address, and here’s how many kilowatts of energy you used last year, and here’s how many gallons of water you used, and if you cut that by 25 percent or X percent, we’ll will give you this rebate,’ and let them figure out how to do it?” asked Councilmember Ryan Thomason. “Some people just turn off their AC …”
City of San Marcos Public Services Director Tom Taggart replied that the conservation incentive programs until this year were associated with water use, adding that it would be difficult to budget for a program such as Thomason suggested.
“If you have more people that are able to achieve that than what you budgeted, then you’re going to be in the unfortunate position of telling somebody, ‘Yeah, you actually saved that, but we’re not able to pay you that because we’ve run out of money in the program to do that,” Taggart said. “At the same time, of course, we have to realize that all conservation programs … benefit us (by) saving future costs in terms of infrastructure … There are many different programs, and you point out some of the possibilities that we can look at in the future to give us a greater reach in how we incentivize.”
Taggart said the “smart meter” technology recently acquired by the city will allow staff to more accurately observe water and electricity consumption patterns, and improve the effectiveness of city conservation programs.
City Manager Rick Menchaca ventured the possibility that the city could send customers summaries of their water and electricity use, and provide information detailing how much money they could save if they reduced their usage by given amounts. Menchaca also said the city code could be revised to require a certain level of energy efficiency for new construction.
“That’s another avenue for you to look at,” Menchaca said. “You could adopt the international building code, but you could also adopt local (standards).”Email | Print