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Green Building News

DOE Targets Innovation in Its Weatherization Program

Almost $120 million committed to a pilot program that will enhance existing services with renewable-energy installations, other technologies, and new financial models

Image Credit: Department of Energy

After a sputtering start, the delivery of services under the expanded Weatherization Assistance Program has in most communities finally gotten up to speed. Now the Department of Energy, which runs the WAP, is looking for ways to enhance the energy efficiency improvements made to the low-income homes targeted by the program while also developing financial models and encouraging partnerships that will help keep the weatherization wagon rolling after its stimulus-funded grants have been spent.

To that end, the DOE on Thursday announced that it will award about $90 million to more than 100 local weatherization providers in 27 states to expand their programs by installing renewable-energy systems and other energy efficiency technologies in low-income homes that qualify for WAP upgrades. The agency said the expanded category of weatherization improvements includes solar heating systems, photovoltaic panels and shingles, small-scale wind turbines, new insulation technologies, cool roofs, high-efficiency appliances, tankless hot water systems, high-efficiency combination boilers for hot water and heat, in-home energy monitors, and ductless heat pump systems.

Money for innovation

In addition, the DOE said it will distribute $30 million among 16 recipients – some not historically involved in the WAP, including private companies, nonprofits, universities, and city governments, as well as national partners like Habitat for Humanity and YouthBuild USA – who will be charged with developing innovative approaches to weatherizing low-income single-family and multifamily homes. The DOE says the grantee projects will focus on creating “new types of weatherization partnerships, financial models that allow for greater private sector leveraging, workforce training and volunteer engagement, and the demonstration of new energy efficiency technologies like in-home energy monitors. Projects will also test combining weatherization services with a comprehensive ‘green and healthy homes’ approach that incorporates indoor air quality improvement and lead abatement services.”

At least one observer, writing for the website Techpulse 360, pointed out that the $90 million aimed at expanding WAP upgrades could, in the realm of low-income housing at least, partially compensate for the absence of funds for renewable-energy improvements under the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) loan program, which withered after Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac declared in early May that they would no longer guarantee mortgages for properties with PACE-related liens. The main reason for the announcement: the liens’ “super-priority lien” status gives them priority over whatever private financing a homeowner may have, including a conventional mortgage.

Techpulse 360 makes an interesting point, and any initiative that helps homeowners boost energy efficiency with minimal or no financial stress is generally seen as a positive thing. But it’s also important to note that PACE programs served homeowners in a variety of income categories, including many in high-income brackets.

Striving for an optimal weatherization rate

The DOE also used Thursday’s announcement to tout the progress made so far in the WAP’s current, stimulus-funded configuration, since operations in most states are finally up to speed. Overall, the program is weatherizing about 25,000 homes a month, with more than 31,600 homes weatherized in June alone (click here for a PDF of June’s weatherization figures). The DOE says the WAP supported more than 13,000 jobs in the second quarter and, at its current pace, is on track to weatherize about 80,000 homes nationwide this summer.

All of the almost 100 weatherization providers (click here for the list) selected to further expand their programs, the DOE added, already have qualified for the second round of stimulus funds by meeting two key criteria: the weatherization of at least 30% of the homes on their overall production list, and the use of the first 30% of their total funding allotment under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

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