One million low-income households have benefited from the federal Weatherization Assistance Program's (WAP) Recovery Act funding, with a total of 7.4 million homes weatherized since the program’s inception 35 years ago. The benefits from this federal investment have been both immediate and long-lasting: housing made more affordable and more comfortable, as well as lessening of the carbon footprint through energy retrofits and the creation of new skilled jobs. The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) and the National Association for State Community Services Programs (NASCSP) organized a briefing hosted in coordination with the Northeast-Midwest Congressional Coalition that discussed what has made this program such a success story, and what policies will ensure that WAP can continue to help low-income families save money, improve America's energy security, and create skilled jobs that cannot be outsourced.
- The Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), set up in 1976 following the 1972 oil crisis, enables low-income families to permanently reduce their energy bills by making their homes more energy-efficient.
- Any household at or below 200% of the poverty line qualifies to apply; priority is given to families with children, and homeowners who are elderly or disabled. It is estimated that 38 million U.S. households are eligible for WAP services. Fifty percent of low-income families are home-owners but cannot afford the upfront costs of weatherizing their homes.
- On September 27, the one-millionth home was weatherized under the Weatherization Assistance Program's 2009 Recovery Act funding. Since the program's inception, a total of 7.4 million homes have been weatherized.
- Consensus across the panel was that the WAP facilitates numerous benefits including job creation, economic growth, reduced energy consumption and lower bills, and protects against asthma triggers, CO2 emissions, unsafe structures and fires.
- Weatherization reduces gas bills, electricity bills and, in the long term, health care bills. According to Richard W. Caperton of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the average family saves more than $400 on heating and cooling bills in the first year following weatherization (that represents about 35% of their total energy consumption). In 2010, WAP families saved an estimated $2.1 billion.
- Mark Wolfe of the Energy Programs Consortium introduced a new documentary, "Filling the Gaps, The History of the Weatherization Assistance Program." It features several workers and recipients who relate, often movingly, how they’ve benefitted from the program.
- David Hepinstall of the Association for Energy Affordability talked about his organization's work serving low-income families in New York City. Two-thirds of NYC residents live in multi-family buildings. Since 2009, 100,000 units have been weatherized in New York State.
- Weatherization has historically been a bipartisan initiative; a primary reason for this is because the program benefits small businesses and households in need in every state.
- Dr. John Joseph, of JAI Software Inc, says that weatherization funding is an investment and not an expenditure, as it results in positive cash flow and long lasting (20-year) returns.
- He added that the program's training centers are long-term assets, and that its thousands of trained weatherization professionals represent precious human capital. These trained specialists are an enormous resource, capable of providing quality energy efficiency retrofits to homes and other buildings throughout the country, spurring the development of small businesses to deliver services and undergirding the demand for materials necessary for building retrofits. This supports and adds jobs in the domestic supply chain.
- Dr. Joseph, along with other speakers, noted that the weatherization assistance program has been the catalyst for innovation in residential energy efficiency. It resulted in the development of the blower door test to measure air infiltration, of infrared cameras to detect heat flows and of many of today's health and safety standards and procedures.
- Richard Caperton noted that 89 percent of the materials used in home retrofits are made in the United States, which compares favorably to an industry-wide average of 76.5 percent.
- Weatherization mitigates approximately 2.65 metric tons of CO2 per year.
- Brad Penney, of Advocates for The Other America, appealed for a movement to extend the Weatherization Assistance Program. For FY2013 only $51 million has been allocated, compared to over $200 million in previous years. He invited all WAP stakeholders to join together and urge Congress to allocate at least $210 million for the program going forward.
- The panelists said that if the weatherization program is not extended, at least 15,000 jobs will be lost and at least 25,000 more will be at risk.
The Weatherization Assistance Program reduces energy waste by sealing air leaks, adding insulation to the building envelope, and many other strategies. This lowers monthly household energy bills – by approximately 19 percent for electricity and 33 percent for natural gas – which represents substantial savings for low-income families who spend an average of 14.4 percent of their income on energy (compared to 3.3 percent for middle income families). Not only has WAP reduced the energy costs for a million low-income households since 2009, but it has also spearheaded the rapid creation of thousands of jobs in a supply chain that is almost entirely based in the United States. WAP was a beneficiary of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which allocated $5 billion to the program over three years (previously, Congress had appropriated on average between $210 and $240 million per year for the program). An estimated 15,439 direct weatherization jobs have been created thanks to ARRA funding, and many more indirect local jobs have been sustained through the Weatherization Supply Chain. Much can still be done: an estimated 34 million households nationwide are eligible for weatherization assistance, while new training centers and instructors are ready to get to work on their behalf. They represent an important and incredibly valuable building block for the development of a sophisticated and entrepreneurial nationwide home retrofit infrastructure.
View a 1-hour video on the history of the Weatherization Assistance Program
- Mark Wolfe, Executive Director, Energy Programs Consortium; State and Local Energy Report
Mark Wolfe serves as the Executive Director of the Energy Programs Consortium (EPC). EPC is a national non-profit organization providing consulting and related technical services to state energy offices. Mark is responsible for directing and developing EPC’s key project areas including energy efficiency finance, public health and energy and resource integration. His previous positions have included serving as a Senior Advisor to the U.S. Treasury Department, Deputy Director for the Coalition of Northeastern Governors, and Senior Analyst for the Congressional Research Service. Mr. Wolfe has a M.S. degree in Public Policy from the State University of New York and a B.A. in Urban Studies from Antioch College.
- David Hepinstall, Executive Director, Association for Energy Affordability
David Hepinstall has been the Executive Director of the Association for Energy Affordability, Inc. (AEA), since 1993. AEA is a leading nonprofit provider of training, engineering services, and direct program delivery in support of energy efficiency through Weatherization, NYSERDA programs and utility efficiency program implementation. In New York, David oversees AEA’s roles as a Weatherization training and technical services contractor and direct Weatherization provider funded by NYSHCR. Nationally, David leads AEA in its role as the “multifamily market lead” for the Department of Energy’s Multifamily Standard Work Specifications development process, working with Advanced Energy, NREL and DOE. He oversees AEA’s national distance learning network, its training as a U.S. Department of Energy-supported Weatherization Training Center, and AEA’s Multifamily Buildings national conference series.
- John Joseph, Ph.D., Principal, JAI Software; Professor of Economics, Thomas College
Dr. John Joseph is CEO of JAI Software, a Maine IT company specializing in automated energy auditing and weatherization program management. Dr. Joseph earned his Economics PhD at Georgetown University and was Professor of Finance and Economics at Thomas College in Waterville, Maine for 20 years. He served as the Director of the Maine Office of Energy Resources during the late 1970’s when energy efficiency was at the forefront of National Policy. He has remained professionally involved in the energy field and provides consulting services focused on energy program evaluation and management.
- Richard W. Caperton, Director of Clean Energy Investment, Center for American Progress Action Fund
Richard W. Caperton is the Director of Clean Energy Investment at American Progress. In this role, he leads the Energy Opportunity team’s work on renewable energy finance, electricity markets, and clean energy infrastructure.
- Brad Penney, General Counsel, Advocates for The Other America
Brad Penney is an attorney and lobbyist with more than 12 years of experience working in professional staff positions in both the House and Senate. Previously the Director of Government Relations at the Alliance to Save Energy, Brad is now the General Counsel of Advocates for The Other America, which represents the Weatherization Assistance Program and other low income Federal programs.