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What's Next for Weatherization--Pioneers in Community Energy Leadership

Posted by Tom White on November 08, 2010
At the recent NCAF Energy Leveraging conference, one of the big questions on the minds of attendees was how do we keep over 1700 weatherization subgrantees alive after the ARRA stimulus funding runs out?  As Bob Adams, Program Lead with the U.S. Department of Energy's Weatherization Assistance Program, said,"We don't want [the unemployment of weatherization staff] to be our post-ARRA legacy. The crystal ball is really cloudy, but there are a lot of believers who are advocating for us."

The weatherization network has leveraged $1 billion in funding exclusive of ARRA, on a $250 million annual federal investment from the U.S. DOE.  "That's a strategy that cannot stop," according to Adams, "we must continue to provide the best product that we can.  It's time to start monitoring ourselves and policing our work to generate even more savings."

There are no silver bullets, but despite lots of new "friends" who have been attracted by the weatherization network funds, the ARRA, and ARRA-funded Weatherization Innovation Pilot programs, have helped to spur more partnerships that will help Community Action Agencies get more homes weatherized without ARRA subsidies.

For example, in western Washington state, the Opportunity Council CAA has launched the Community Energy Challenge: providing community-wide access to quality energy efficient residential retrofits, job creation, small business development assistance for OC/CEC graduates and former employees.  OC/CEC has obtained community development financing from a range of financial partners, making energy efficiency accessible, affordable, and attractive.  Energy efficiency has become a new path for OC's engagement with their community.

Sustainable Energy Resources for Consumers

As a DOE Sustainable Energy Resources for Consumers (SERC) grantee, Duane Yoder, with the Oakland, Maryland-based Garrett County Community Action Committee, plans to install wind, solar and geothermal upgrades on weatherized homes and provide training to low and very low income families to help them identify costs for operating their renewable energy systems. Duane wants to build the capacity of local contractors to install and maintain residential renewable energy systems, and test the appropriateness of different systems relevant to local types of housing. Duane plans to use the data and experience gained from the SERC program to support county renewable energy objectives, and to test market renewable systems in Central Appalachia.

But what happens after SERC? Duane is working with county economic development planners on how to grow energy businesses, learning how to package financing products (loans, tax/carbon credits, grants), and collaborating on a community college workforce development curriculum. Duane's goal is to make GCCAC a rural energy leader, using natural gas drilling taxes to support renewable energy education. "We want the natural gas fund to finance 100% of homes eligible for weatherization," said Duane. Duane sees the SERC program as part of the county's asset development strategy, and he also plans to leverage SERC into renewable energy businesses that will support GCCAC's own properties.

In the post-ARRA world, CAP/CAC's are developing pioneering partnerships with utilities, local governments, nonprofits and educational institutions. They're using loan loss reserve funds from energy efficient community block grants and driving residential retrofit demand through social marketing of energy efficiency. These partnerships involve tackling multiple regulatory, social and financial barriers, but as Edward Jennings, Jr., Southeast Regional Administrator for HUD stated, "It won't get done if you don't do it.  It has never been more important.  President Obama is only asking for your all."

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