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AHFC does right by Alaskans, fixes energy rebate program glitch

Alex DeMarban
In an expansion of its popular energy-rebate program, the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. now says that homeowners planning to participate a second time can do so if they meet certain requirements. Loren Holmes photo

In an expansion of its popular energy rebate program, the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. says that homeowners planning to participate a second time -- because they've moved and purchased a different home -- can do so if two years have passed since they received their initial rebate.

The rule replaces another rule -- in place for only a short period -- that had inadvertently excluded 18 Alaskans who were legitimately participating in the program a second time.

I was one of the affected homeowners. After participating in the program a few years ago -- making upgrades totaling about $12,000 and receiving a rebate of about $7,000 -- my family moved to a new house.

The fact that we own and occupy our current house -- just as we did the previous house -- made us eligible for the program a second time.

For this second go-round, we'd enrolled in the program months earlier and spent many thousands of dollars on energy improvements, with the expectation we'd get up to $10,000 in return.

But then, suddenly, we learned in late June that we'd be excluded, based on a new rule that appeared from nowhere -- that my house must have been purchased after Jan. 11 to be eligible.

It wasn't. 

I wrote an article for Alaska Dispatch about the bizarre turn of events, and questioned whether the competence of managers and a lack of finances were at play.

Those concerns may have been overblown. To its credit, AHFC immediately fixed the problem. Even more impressive -- and unusual -- officials personally apologized to me.

And they were forthright. They said the agency had erred. It had briefly created the Jan. 11 rule to address a small amount of abuse related to the expansion.  

Now that old rule is gone. Announcing the new rule last week, the agency said the expansion is meant “to incentivize owner-occupied homeowners, not investors or owners of rental properties, to achieve more energy efficiency."

Here's the new rule, taken from the program's web page: "Homeowners may participate again if they have moved into a new primary residence after two years from the date of their last rebate check."

The 18 Alaskans who had unintentionally been struck from the program will essentially be grandfathered in, since they'd enrolled before the new announcement last week.

Agency chief executive Dan Fauske said in the statement he has pledged accountability for the $500 million appropriated by the Legislature since the program began in 2008. About 21,000 homeowners have participated, making energy improvements and reducing their energy use by more than one-third.

Mike Buller, deputy executive director, said in the statement that the agency has "carefully guarded" legislative funding.

The agency will "make whole Alaskans who participated with the expectation that funds up to $10,000 each were available for a second owner-occupied home, subject to adherence to all other existing program guidelines.

Full details can be found at www.akrebate.com.

Contact Alex DeMarban at alex(at)alaskadispatch.com