The plucky group of weatherization advocates who spoke with reporters Tuesday morning said that Ohio homes that can benefit from weatherization savings far outnumber the federal and utility dollars in the pipeline to help low-income households keep their combined housing and utility costs under 30 percent, a key standard of housing affordability.
Energy experts representing a progressive economic think tank, a service group that caters to low-income households and an environmental advocacy group made their case that Ohio’s Home Weatherization Assistance Program results in home energy cost savings of over 20 percent on average, making it one of the best such programs in the nation. Additional benefits, they said, include pollution reduction, energy conservation, and job creation.
Policy Matters Ohio released a new report today on weatherization programs that said more needs to be done and the sooner the better. Despite an exceptional record of success for weatherizing homes—in 2012, just 5,741 homes were weatherized, comprising 1.2 percent of the 460,000 households seeking emergency assistance that year—this program reaches too few eligible families, and recent policy changes are exacerbating the problem, Amanda Woodrum, energy researcher at PMO, said.
“Weatherization is a win for low-income families, the public, and the environment,” Woodrum said in prepared remarks. “This program reduces costs, reduces waste, and improves our housing stock.” Chiming in was Mike Piepsny, Executive Director of Environmental Health Watch, which helped fund the research. “Weatherizing homes increases the health of our communities,” he said.
The Clean Energy Standard that required investor-owned utilities to reduce consumption by 22 percent was the driving force behind a seven-fold increase in utility company spending on weatherization, the report notes. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, running for reelection this year, signed a bill recently that froze clean energy compliance standards for two years while the state evaluates whether to scrap them altogether. Utilities’ efficiency and weatherization investments have already been hurt, the experts said in a conference call with invited reporters.
The report finds that eliminating the clean energy standards would result in a $300 million loss of investments in weatherization over the next ten years and recommends that Ohio unfreeze the standards. “Ohio’s clean energy standards are working,” Dave Rinebolt, Executive Director of Ohio Partnership for Affordable Energy, said. Rinebolt noted that the standards resulted in more resources to help vulnerable families and are reducing prices for everyone over the long-term.” Woodrum said that research finds that investments in weatherization reduce energy bills, reduce pollution, and preserve resources. “Whatever the mechanism, it’s essential that Ohio continue to invest in this efficient, effective approach,” she said.
Piepsny said that 70 percent of homes in Ohio were built before 1978 and contribute 20 percent of CO2 emissions. He wants the carbon footprint of this housing stock to be reduced by 50 percent in the future. Woodrum notes that $60 billion, representing about 9 percent of gross state product, was invested into home weatherization, mainly to alleviate inadequate insulation. Poor efficiency in home appliances is also a factor, contributing to housing and utility costs that represent 30 percent or more total costs. About 300,000 Ohio households qualify as cost burden households, notwithstanding the $440 million in federal funding and utility ratepayer dollars that went into these programs. The long term solution, the group said, is a combination of weatherization programs, energy audits, insulation and furnace upgrades. For every one dollar invested, Woodrum said, $2.51 in return in energy savings is created. Moreover, 52 jobs are produced along the way. In 2012, PMO research shows that about 459,000 households received emergency assistance, a small number compared to the need. The experts called on unfreezing the renewable energy standards Gov. Kasich froze. More federal help is also needed.
Asked who will champion their cause either in the Kasich Administration or the legislature, which is GOP controlled now and could be even more firmly in the party’s control after the midterm elections, Rinebolt stressed that current funding comes from Washington and Ohio utilities. But if the legislature wants to help out, Rinebolt said that would be very good. Unfortunately, given the history of Republicans’ embrace of energy efficiency programs, including weatherization programs of the kind Rinebolt and others operation, no one should hold their breath on policy changes that would help the group achieve their respective policy goals. Piepsny held local governments out as a possible source of more funding.
Woodrum said Ohio needs to pay close attention to cleaner and more efficient energy standards, a response to whether Ohio will ever have the kind of strong consumer counsel voice it had before the Kasich Administration pretty much cut its talons in its first biennial budget in 2011.