Time To Reauthorize Weatherization Assistance Program, Which Returns $2.50 In Savings For Every Dollar Invested

Contractor Bob Alf demonstrates a newly installed window. (Credit: MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson)

After thirty-six of years of making homes energy efficient, creating jobs, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) is currently up for reauthorization in Congress. The federal government funds weatherization programs in all 50 states, D.C., five territories, and three tribal governments. But it is the local and community organizations, through WAP, that have weatherized over 7.4 million homes. This program successfully cuts the energy costs for low income families.

Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Jack Reed (D-RI) introduced S. 1213 on June 20th to reauthorize WAP and continue its track record of saving families an average of $437 per year on energy.

“This bill isn’t just about reauthorization, it is also about modernization,” said Sen. Coons during the Energy Subcommittee hearing on June 25th. “For every dollar invested, the Weatherization Assistance Program returns $2.51 in household savings.”

WAP has benefitted families — particularly the elderly, disabled, and families with children — since it was created in 1976 under the Energy Conservation and Production Act. However, it has not been until recently that WAP has been able to weatherize a significantly higher number of homes. In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) contributed $5 billion towards the program’s goal of weatherizing 600,000 low income homes by the end of 2012. The program surpassed its objective by a substantial amount: weatherizing over one million homes through the end of last year.

In each home the program accepts, energy auditors implement plans to reduce energy costs by increasing insulation in key areas, as well as installing storm windows, smoke alarms, and carbon monoxide detectors. These retrofitting actions have led to numerous success stories all across the country.

The Conn family of eastern Kentucky is just one household of millions that has benefited from WAP. The program turned their once drafty, unbearably cold house that used approximately 1,400 kilowatt hours of power per month into to a warmer, safer home that only uses 500 kilowatt hours per month.

Low income families typically spend 20 percent of their combined income on heating expenses annually, while those below the poverty line can see up to 40 percent of their wages covering their energy costs. With the weatherization program’s ability to cut utility bills by, “as much as 50 percent,” according to Shaun Wright, the Executive Director of Michigan’s program, families who receive this assistance can use the money they save on other basic living expenses.

Although WAP immediately benefits the families whose houses get renovated, it also spurs job growth and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. In Colorado, the weatherization opportunities have led Veterans Green Jobs to begin training military veterans on how to convert a house into an energy efficient machine.

The EPA states that buildings are responsible for 65 percent of this country’s electricity consumption. With over one million homes completed, the program has certainly attempted to decrease residential energy consumption which is a win-win-win: saving families’ money, creating jobs, and preventing the release of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere.

In order to continue reducing energy costs for low income families and therefore shrinking our energy usage as a nation, Congress needs to stand behind the re-authorization of this program and enact S. 1213.

Matt Kasper contributed to this blog.

10 Responses to Time To Reauthorize Weatherization Assistance Program, Which Returns $2.50 In Savings For Every Dollar Invested

  1. Leif says:

    The problem is that the “savings” go to the “wrong” “We the People.” If I recall correctly, some months ago there was a CP post pointing out the ROI to government lobbyists was in the neighborhood of 40::1. It is plain to see where big money loyalties reside.

  2. Martin V says:

    Weatherization is certainly a good idea but the better idea is to have building codes that set minimum standards for insulation. These codes – which have been keeping Europe’s houses more efficient for ages – should apply first and foremost to developers. One drive by a new housing development shows that the walls are a joke – the heating and cooling cost are not. But who cares, as they’re borne by the future owners, not the builders.

  3. Brooks Bridges says:

    I very happy to see this post on energy efficiency in buildings.

    I am mystified there are not far more because of the incredible benefit/cost ratio and the rapidity with which it can be implemented and the rapid payback in most cases.

    Rocky Mountain Institute (Reinventing Fire p 79, says American buildings use 42% of America’s energy and 72% of its electricity and a large percentage of that is wasted.

    I did a crude search/count of Climate Progress posts on June 11 and found a total of 370 (all subjects) since April 1, 2013.

    1) I found only 2 or 3 posts on energy efficiency. And those posts generated very few comments and of those, several were dismissive. I expect the same for this post.

    2) I found 42 posts on clean energy – solar power, wind energy, etc. That’s 20 to 1.

    3) A number of reputable sources say it’s imperative we cut CO2e emissions and equivalents by large amounts essentially immediately. This CANNOT be done by any clean energy. It COULD be done by cuts in energy demand.

    4) The Rocky Mountain Institute says Empire State building cut 33% of energy use AND payed for it in 3 or 4 years with savings. And tenants were much more comfortable.

    5) My 93 year old house now uses less than half the energy it used when I bought it as result of adding foam insulation to walls and attic.

    There is NOTHING we can do faster that has remotely the rate of return as improving building energy efficiency. Yet all I hear about is renewable energy – which will require years to become a big player.

    We have an planetary emergency and the lack of emphasis on this incredibly effective tool is appalling.

  4. fj says:

    More affirmation that poor people first is one of the most important strategies for stopping accelerating climate change.

  5. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Any program that aids the poor in any way, let alone disproportionately compared to those wealthier, will be loathed by the Right, and will be destroyed, or seriously amended so as to make it less offensively ‘communistic’. Just look at the UK for a text-book example of Rightwing social savagery, with the greatest cuts inflicted on the poor and helpless, even the disabled.

  6. Michael Glass says:

    Without Uncle Sam’s largesse, operating nuclear power plants would not be possible.

    The Price-Anderson Act sets the amount of liability insurance a nuclear power plant needs to carry, currently about $400 million. It also creates an insurance pool, backed by all the U.S. nuclear plant operators, of about $12 billion. Any liability claims beyond that are backed by Uncle Sam.

    It is not possible to buy enough insurance to cover a Fukushima-scale disaster. $12 billion is a drop in the bucket. Yet it would be foolish to let one operate without insurance.

    So the U.S. government subsidizes the nuclear industry by providing the insurance that can’t be bought on the open market.

    Nuclear plant operators complaining about the wind tax credit are mongo dishonest. Uncle Sugar’s largesse is the bedrock of their business model.

    (Even the nominal $12bn self-insurance pool is suspect. They don’t hold that money in reserves. But after a Big One, it is possible that all those other plants in the pool will be suddenly worthless.)

  7. Nancy Swan says:

    Most weatherizing products are inert. Some are not. SPF insulation, roofing, and sealant are extremely toxic, costly to remove or keep sealed, and flammable. I am one of its victims, a survivor that hope to steer other away from this dangerous product. Two dozen children were injured at the school where I was teaching. Our injuries from this product are serious and permanent. As a result, I developed severe asthma, required surgical removal of burned and scarred sinus tissue, have scarred lungs, and brain-stem damage.

  8. Brooks Bridges says:

    I submitted the above comment at 1:30 pm. At 4:30 it was still in moderation. By then there were several new blog posts with more comments than this post meaning virtually no one saw my comment.

    Am I that far out in left field in thinking this is so important? If so, why does “Reinventing Fire” harp on it so much?

    good bye

  9. fj says:

    Mulga :

    The terrible moral corruption you describe will be eradicated when poverty is eradicated .

    Action speaks louder than words.

  10. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I agree, although I suspect that the moral corruption must be overthrown before equality and justice can blossom.