A multimillion-dollar initiative that encourages people to make their homes more energy-efficient has expanded across Charleston County, making available generous rebates that were previously reserved for Charleston city residents.

For people like James Island resident Anna Cox, the CharlestonWISE program has been an opportunity to reduce the power needed to heat and cool her townhouse, with little out-of-pocket expense.

'For the long term, and for resale, I think it's a good idea,' she said Friday, as workers put the finishing touches on some insulation work.

CharlestonWISE is using $1.5 million in federal Department of Energy funding, awarded through the Southeastern Energy Alliance, to provide homeowners with rebates of up to $1,500 for energy-efficiency work. Those rebates are matched up with utility company rebates, and in some cases tax incentives, greatly reducing the cost to the property owners.

For Cox whose savings were larger than is typical that meant paying less than $250 for insulation, duct-sealing and other improvements worth about $1,700. Her energy savings should recoup her costs in less than two years, CharlestonWISE estimated.

The goal staked out by CharlestonWISE, a program of the nonprofit Sustainability Institute, is to help homeowners reduce their energy consumption by a minimum of 15 percent. Private contractors chosen by the property owners do the work, while CharlestonWISE provides incentives and quality assurance.

For 30-year-old J.R. Daniels of Charleston, the initiative has opened the door to a job. He completed a training program and spent six months working through the Energy Conservation Corps, in a program affiliated with the Sustainability Institute, and now is employed with Carolina Green Energy Systems.

'It's hard work, but I like helping people, especially if it has something to do with saving them money,' said Daniels, who worked on Cox's home. 'The pay is good, the most I've ever gotten, and I'm just starting out.'

Benny Marshall, owner of Carolina Green Energy Systems, said he doesn't understand why more people aren't clamoring to get work done.

'There are millions of dollars that the power companies are giving out, and people don't seem to understand it,' he said.

In addition to the CharlestonWISE rebates, South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. is offering rebates of up to $2,500; Santee Cooper is offering rebates as well; and Berkeley Electric Cooperative is loaning customers money to pay for efficiency improvements.

'If you are eligible to participate in the CharlestonWISE program, our rebates work in conjunction with theirs,' said Felicia Howard, director of energy efficiency programs for SCE&G.

'We want to make the most efficient use of our resources, too,' she said. And that means if people use less power, SCE&G won't have to build so many new power plants.

The CharlestonWISE initiative originally was restricted to Charleston city residents because the city helped apply for grants, but the terms recently were amended to allow the program to go countywide.

'The biggest challenge is making this uncomplicated for the consumer,' said Bryan Cordell, executive director of the Sustainability Institute.

The way it works is, property owners have their home assessed and get a report on how much energy they could save if they do various improvements. The cost of the improvements and the estimated savings are detailed, with CharlestonWISE assuring the projected savings,and contractors who do the work coordinating the rebates.

Reach David Slade at 937-5552.