As winter arrives, many Vermonters are probably going to be shivering – indoors. The state wants to weatherize 80,000 homes, a quarter of them owned or occupied by people with low incomes, by 2020.
But that goal is behind schedule, even though some new money is coming in.
Last week, four of Vermont’s social service agencies that weatherize homes collectively celebrated an award of $250,000 from the United States Department of Agriculture. One is RuralEdge, based in Lyndonville. Director of Home Ownership Peg Hale says she’s seen the wind whip through a lot of Northeast Kingdom homes.
“They would be extremely cold; they would be drafty. Windows would potentially have some condensation so we would worry about mold and mildew issues. So with these funds we are able to go in and meet with those families and find out exactly what they need,” Hale said.
But while the USDA grant will cover home repairs, it does not usually fund energy audits and insulation. That kind of weatherization is provided by the state through five different local agencies. The money comes from a 0.5 percent tax on fuels. Local assistance programs have also been relying on a one-time grant from Green Mountain Power’s merger with Central Vermont Public Service, and federal stimulus money. But both sources are running dry.
Vermont Weatherization Program Administrator Geoff Wilcox says less money could mean serving low-income residents in only about 1,000 homes next year — half the number needed to meet the state goal — and delaying help for others.
“That’s 1,200 people who are waiting and people are applying every day,” Wilcox said.
Jim Ryan, director of the Northeast Employment and Training Organization in Newport, has been weatherizing Northeast Kingdom homes and trailers for over 30 years. He says energy savings have risen dramatically with better technology.
“Back in the day we had the old insulation blowers. Now we have all state-of-the-art equipment and so we do a much more comprehensive job,” Ryan said.
Ryan says energy auditors link low-income Vermonters to other badly needed services, like lead remediation. And he says weatherizing stretches fuel assistance dollars.
Vermont ranks 50th in the nation in energy affordability, according to a study cited by Vermont's Senate Natural Resources Committee. Weatherizing a home can save as much as $1,000 a year, and to a low-income family, that’s not small change. Advocates want to see the state raise the gross receipts tax that pays for weatherization. But they also worry that lawmakers will reduce that funding to balance the budget.