Brooks: Weatherization aid means savings, jobs
May 25, 2010
www.metrowestdailynews.com By Tina Brooks
In other states, including our nation’s capital, concerns have been raised about how, and how quickly, the $5 billion in stimulus funds to expand the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Weatherization Assistance Program have been put to work. Not so in Massachusetts, where the federal government’s unprecedented commitment to making the homes of low- and moderate-income families more energy efficient has quickly translated into fuel assistance dollars stretched farther, housing authorities (and the state) saving money, and jobs created in a growing industry – just what the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act intended.
For Massachusetts, that $5 billion federal investment in weatherization translated into $122 million over three years. That increase is more than 10 times the $11 million Massachusetts received last year. Unlike other states, however, some of which were overwhelmed by such an infusion of funds, under Governor Deval Patrick’s leadership, Massachusetts had an established weatherization program that could ramp up, even tenfold, in short order. The result is a modest anti-poverty program transformed into an energy-saving, job-creating engine that also makes life more affordable and more comfortable for residents living on fixed incomes.
With stimulus dollars flowing through the Patrick-Murray Administration’s Department of Housing and Community Development and work being done by certified contractors in partnership with a statewide network of community-based non-profits, we are well on our way to weatherizing 17,000 households and creating hundreds of new jobs by the DOE’s March 2012 deadline. To date, we have insulated more than 2,845 units of private housing, and added 42 new contractors and 220 new installers to do the work. Locally, the South Middlesex Opportunity Council serves the Framingham/MetroWest area.
In the state’s 50,000 public housing units, $25 million has been targeted to replace old, inefficient heating systems with new state-of-the-art units, reducing costs for tenants who are responsible for their own fuel bills. DHCD has awarded more than $10 million to 20 local housing authorities to date. Numerous other awards are set for announcement soon. This means jobs and sales for plumbers, electricians, heating specialists and material suppliers. It also means energy savings of 25 to 30 percent – or $530 annually – for the 75 percent of public housing households with an elderly or disabled resident.
Although the infusion of federal funds is short term, the commitment to energy efficiency in our homes is permanent – and so, too, is the industry that is growing to meet the demand. “Boot camps” have been set up in partnership with natural gas and electric utilities to train new contractors, and an Energy Efficiency Skills and Training Initiative funded by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center will keep workers and contractors moving toward opportunities to translate energy efficiency improvements into jobs.
What’s more, the expansion of weatherization to fixed-income residents aligns with expanding energy efficiency opportunities to everyone under the Green Communities Act of 2008, which requires electric and natural gas utilities to put their resources into saving energy for their customers. With $2 billion committed to energy efficiency over the next three years, and $6 billion of savings for participating residential and business consumers, this is just the start.
“Green job” is today’s buzzword, but there’s nothing mystical about green jobs. This is where they start – taking leaky old houses and apartment buildings and turning them into energy-saving, cost-saving machines. Making that happen means creating jobs for people right here in their own backyards.
That is exactly what the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is supposed to do – put people to work building our economy for the needs of today, and the needs of tomorrow. In weatherization and elsewhere, that is exactly what Governor Patrick and his administration is doing.
Tina Brooks is the Undersecretary for Housing and Community Development in Massachusetts.