Economic Stimulus for the Rest of Us

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There has been a ton of money floating out of Washington the past couple of years. Much is going toward propping up state governments with budget shortfalls, helping those who cannot find work by extending unemployment benefits and COBRA health insurance coverage, and a ton of dough is going to the banks.

This leaves a lot of us wondering, where is my stimulus package?

As an avid reader of current events and a novice financial expert, my opinion is perhaps literally worth two cents. As a renewable energy professional who has spent the past two years learning about solar energy and energy efficiency through community college courses and technical schools, I can tell there is a lot of money going to the right places.

In addition to extending unemployment benefits, there is a good deal of money flowing into community colleges and renewable energy. For example, I was able to get reimbursed from my state, New York, for the classes I took on energy efficiency.

Note: This reimbursement may not be directly related to the America Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, but if you visit Recovery.gov and search “community colleges,” you will see the amount of money going to specific colleges. This site shows how the money is being spent and spread out across the country. It is a lot of money and it is being spent slowly. Rolling out the cash this way allows time for municipalities to compete for the funds and present proposals that are worth spending on. Will this remove all the “pork?” Maybe not, but hopefully it will weed out the “bridge to nowhere” projects.

Now, back to energy efficiency. Many state incentives will reimburse you for retrofits made to your home. Energy saving is accomplished through air sealing, insulation, higher efficiency light bulbs and appliances and window replacement. These retrofits can save you 10 to 40 percent on energy costs. You don’t have to spend a great deal of money to make a huge impact on your home.

Through the state incentives, you can get a portion of the work reimbursed by the state. With the “Cash for Caulkers” bill in the works, there will be federal incentives as well. Visit  DSIREUSA.org in order to find all energy efficiency and renewable energy incentives for your state as well as federally.

With regards to renewable energy, you are now able to take a 30 percent tax credit, with no cap, on all solar, wind or other renewable energy installations at your home. This is not a tax deduction, but a credit that will come off your tax obligation. If your tax obligation does not meet the credit, then you can carry the credit over to the following year.

On top of the federal tax credit, there are also state rebates and state tax credits. Again, depending on what state you are in. All your state specific info can be find on the DSIREUSA website.

Lastly, some states have renewable energy credits or feed-in tariffs, which mean not only do you save money by not purchasing electricity from your utility, but you get paid by utilities or other third parties for energy you produce.

As most of us agree, the times are changing. The United States is trying to find a path to resurrect its status as a leader among nations. We have lost our manufacturing base that built us in the 20th century. We have to work on reforming our educational system so we can compete with emerging countries back east.

The path ahead is long — very long — but I can see the first steps. The first step is toward an energy independent nation that does not rely on oil from countries that don’t like the “old red white and blue.” In addition, we need to move toward an education-independent country that continues to attract foreign talent, but more importantly that rebuilds our pool of technically proficient citizens so we do not need to rely on foreign countries to build our cars, clothes, solar panels and goods from Wal-mart.

photo: pfala

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