Energy efficiency is a win-win-win for the United States. It saves homeowners money, it puts Americans back to work, and it helps avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change. But energy efficiency investments are tough for some people to make because they typically involve relatively large up-front costs for benefits spread into the future. The Weatherization Assistance Program exists to help make sure all Americans share benefits of energy efficiency.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 allocated $5 billion for the Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program with the highly ambitious goal of weatherizing 600,000 homes by the end of the three-year Recovery Act period. In crafting the Recovery Act, President Barack Obama understood that scaling up the weatherization program would be a key part of the strategy to jumpstart the economy through creating American jobs, supporting small businesses, saving everyday people money on their energy bills, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
After a slow start, the Weatherization Assistance Program gained momentum and on Thursday, September 27, 2012 weatherized the 1 millionth home just nine months after passing the 600,000 mark. This achievement marks a major milestone. Across America, the Weatherization Assistance Program has been a success.
While this is a great achievement for President Obama and the Department of Energy, the real beneficiaries are the families who have had their homes retrofitted. Any household at or below 200 percent of the poverty line qualifies to apply for retrofit services. Although 38 million households are eligible for weatherization services, priority has been given to families with children and homeowners who are elderly or disabled.
The Weatherization Assistance Program also has environmental benefits. Energy use in homes, offices, and industrial facilities is a leading contributor to climate change. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, buildings in the United States account for nearly 40 percent of the nation’s total energy use and 65 percent of electricity consumption. Because the construction, operation, and maintenance of buildings involves large amounts of energy, water, and other resources, buildings produce 30 percent of the greenhouse gasses emitted in the United States each year.
Weatherization Assistance Program objectives
The purpose of the Weatherization Assistance Program is to increase the energy efficiency of homes owned or occupied by low-income persons, reduce their total residential expenditures such as heating and cooling bills, and improve the health and safety of families. For three decades, the United States has operated the program under the Energy and Conservation and Production Act of 1976, but President Obama’s allocation of $5 billion under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to the Weatherization Assistance Program represented a five-fold increase compared to fiscal year 2008 funding levels.
The Department of Energy provided the funding to states, territories, and tribal governments who could manage the day-to-day details of the program. State governments funded a network of local community agencies, nonprofit organizations or local governments to provide the weatherization services. Throughout the entire country residents have benefited from weatherization investments. One specific region does not stand out as the main recipient as Figure 1 illustrates WAP funding per capita. Although the weather in North Dakota and North Carolina are different, weatherization of low-income housing in those states still helps families save on their energy bills.
For a family struggling to make ends meet, weatherization services can help them reduce their energy consumption by up to 35 percent—saving them more than $400 on their heating and cooling bills in the first year alone. When a low-income household is spending upward of 15 percent to 20 percent of their total monthly income on energy costs—money that could be otherwise used to buy groceries or pay for education or health care costs—the weatherization of households is a clear benefit. In fact, in 2010 the program saved low-income families $2.1 billion.
But the Weatherization Assistance Program was also designed to deliver on the promise of creating jobs and benefitting communities across the country.