Brian Gray: New weatherization incentives good for families, good for jobs

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In the midst of the warm summer months, it's easy to forget the long winter and cold, wet spring we survived this year. But there are plenty of reasons for Vermonters, especially with moderate incomes, to take action now in preparation for the coming cold.

Just about every Vermonter would agree that if there was something they could do to reduce their heating bill and make one less trip to the wood pile they would do it. Well, luckily there is. Weatherizing our homes and buildings does just that — it saves money, heat and labor. It also creates good paying jobs and boosts our local economy.

This is why I was so pleased by the recent announcement from Efficiency Vermont, in partnership with qualified contractors like Energy Co-op of Vermont, to deploy an additional $2.6 million to help moderate-income Vermont households make substantial upgrades to their homes, including air sealing and insulation. This work will help families keep winter outside this year, and make their homes not only more affordable, but also more comfortable and healthier too.

The funding was made available by the legislature and will help an additional 1,500 Vermont families take advantage of Efficiency Vermont's comprehensive weatherization program, called Home Performance with ENERGY STAR. Qualified families who heat with natural gas are also able to access the increased incentives, thanks to support from Vermont Gas Systems which has announced that it will match the incentives for their customers as well.

While most Vermonters understand that weatherization makes sense it has remained financially out of reach for too many. To date, incentives to weatherize homes have largely been focused on low-income Vermonters. The Energy Co-op of Vermont has helped hundreds of our members take advantage of Efficiency Vermont's program, which can save more than $500 a year in heating costs for an average home that heats with oil. But I've always thought many more of our members would take advantage of this program if the upfront costs of this work — which on average is about $7,500 — could be brought down. With the new funding, families with household incomes between 80 percent and 120 percent of Area Median Income cut that cost in half — up to $4,000 — and their projects with 0% interest through the Heat Save Loan.

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The vast majority of homes in Vermont were built long before model energy code standards. In fact, the average home has air leakage that is equivalent to a four-foot square hole in an exterior wall. Weatherization is the term used to describe a process that includes sealing leaks in the building's perimeter, ductwork and windows. Insulation is often added to the walls and ceiling to improve energy efficiency and enhance the air barrier between the indoor living area and the outdoors.

Weatherization is one of the easiest ways to increase comfort, improve indoor air quality and save energy and money. It's also one of the best ways for us to create good paying jobs right here in Vermont. It has allowed the Energy Co-op to grow its number of Vermont employees by 29 percent with good paying jobs. And the numbers obviously go far beyond our small shop. The 2019 Vermont Clean Energy Industry Report, released last month tells the story well. Vermont has the highest clean energy employment per capita at 5.7 percent. With a total employment of almost 19,000 workers, the clean energy sector has become a significant part of the Vermont economy. Contractors like the Energy Co-op and the members of our team who perform energy audits and make energy improvements to homes and buildings are a critical part of this growing economic sector.

I am happy that our legislators and governor recognize the value of weatherization. It is just good old common sense and with the passage of this bill it will be more widely available to hard-working Vermonters. As the cost of living continues to rise, weatherization provides an easy way for homeowners to trim expenses without lowering their standard of living. And it also reduces trips to the woodpile.

To learn more about Efficiency Vermont and their weatherization programs and incentives visit www.efficiencyvermont.com.

Brian Gray is the general manager of the Energy Co-op of Vermont, a not-for-profit, member-owned cooperative, established July 2001. Energy Co-op of Vermont serves over 2,000 members in northwest and central Vermont.


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