Every month on your electric or gas bill, you will notice a surcharge called the ‘Combined Public Benefits Charge.’ A part of this surcharge pays for Conservation and Load Management (C&LM) programs, which weatherize homes around the state. The amount you pay depends on how much energy you use.
But, according to the most recent data, not everyone who needs these services takes advantage of them — even though everyone helps pay for them, an average of about $100 a year.
As a whole, Connecticut is making good progress reaching more homes with energy-efficiency programs. That’s crucial, because residential properties consume one-third of all energy statewide. Just in New Haven, residents spend about $167 million per year on home energy costs, including $43 million on electricity.
But some towns, including New Haven, lag in weatherizing homes. New Haven’s population is similar to those of Hartford and Bridgeport, and it has paid a similar amount to help fund the weatherization programs. But, in 2013, almost twice as many residents in Hartford and Bridgeport received benefits from those programs.
To put it simply, New Haven residents are putting a similar amount in, but only getting back half as much.
|Town||Total Contribution to C&LM||Contribution to C&LM per resident||Total residential energy assessments conducted||Percent of occupied units served|
TWO PROGRAMS FOR WEATHERIZATION
Two programs make weatherization free for some residents and highly subsidized for others, depending on their income:
- If a household earns less than 60 percent of the state’s median income ($52,524 for a family of three), the program is free through the Home Energy Solutions-Income Eligible (HES-IE) Program, which is aimed at low-income residents — although, as we’ll see later, it’s unclear if it is reaching those who need it most. (You can check for eligibility here.)
- Otherwise, you can receive heavily subsidized services through the Home Energy Solutions (HES) Program.
Each program requires a visit from utility-certified technicians who conduct an energy assessment to evaluate a home’s energy performance, and install basic weatherization measures.
In 2014 alone, more than $70 million was spent on those programs, serving almost 60,000 homes in Connecticut. The money spent on residential weatherization has resulted in an estimated lifetime savings of $338 million in energy costs, according to EnergizeCT.
|Program||2014 Electric||2015 Electric (Budgeted)||2014 Natural Gas||2015 Natural Gas (Budgeted)|
|Home Energy Solutions (HVAC, Duct Sealing, Lightning)||$26,882,381||$22,591,621||$12,422,383||$12,863,046|
|HES Income Eligible||$21,385,612||$20,407,550||$12,067,681||$8,077,802|
But even with a free program for low-income residents, these programs may not be reaching the residents who need them most.
We can clearly see these equity concerns in New Haven neighborhoods.
In 2013, about 2 percent of the 50,000 occupied housing units in New Haven received energy efficiency services — not as good as other cities in the state, but still a substantial number.
But two-third of the homes served were single-family homes — even though they are less than one-third of all New Haven homes. The majority of housing units in the city are multi-family homes.
Since lower-income people, particularly renters, are more likely to live in multi-family homes, these findings suggest that lower-income people are not benefiting from the program as much as others.
The most neglected buildings are those with two to four units, which is the most common housing type in the city, particularly in low-income neighborhoods. Although 39 percent of all New Haven housing units are in two- to four-unit buildings, only 12 percent of the jobs done by HES-IE — which are 100 percent subsidized for lower-income populations — were in those buildings.
In some areas the discrepancy is even greater. For example, in the Edgewood neighborhood, 9 percent of all units are single-family homes, but more than 90 percent of HES-IE jobs were done in those units.
|Edgewood (tract 1409)||The Hill (tract 1405)||Newhallville (tract 1415)|
|Single family homes in neighborhood||9%||18%||22%|
|HES-IE services to single family homes||92%||79%||67%|
We can conclude that certain building types and lower-income people are not being as effectively reached by energy efficiency programs — which are funded by everyone who pays for their energy.
SOME CAUSES OF LOW ADOPTION
While weatherizing a home sounds easy enough, there are a few common reasons why adoption isn’t higher in these areas.
One is that people don’t have enough time or flexibility to schedule an appointment, particularly people with jobs with unpredictable hours. It can also take time to gather the necessary income documentation for people applying for HES-IE.
Another is getting landlord approval, needed to weatherize a property beyond very perfunctory measures which can be installed without a landlord’s approval.
Lastly, many Connecticut homes have damp conditions or mold, or elevated gas or carbon monoxide levels — and it’s dangerous to seal windows in those homes, preventing the work from being done. And low-income residents may not have the money to fix these underlying issues.
HOW SOME HAVE APPROACHED THE ISSUES
There have been various approaches to this problem:
- Some municipalities have a volunteer task force that helps coordinate energy efficiency work. Many are affiliated with EnergizeCT. Support is also available through the Connecticut Sustainable Communities Network. New Haven does not have a task force, which may partly explain why it is falling behind other cities. There are plans to get one going.
- In a city like New Haven, where more than 70 percent of the housing units are occupied by renters, the barriers outlined above related to landlords are a big problem. In Boston, they’ve had success increasing the energy efficiency of rental properties by hiring a dedicated landlord coordinator as part of the Renew Boston program.
- Connecticut used to have an experimental program funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, which paid for weatherizations and remediation of some health and safety problems. Funding for that program has now ended, but lessons learned from that model can be applied to future programming.
DATA AND ACCOUNTABILITY
Effective decision-making depends on access to data. Residents and elected officials need to know that data exists, and how to access and understand it. Connecticut has been a leader in making available census tract-level data about who uses these programs.
In addition, the people who administer and oversee the programs must be kept accountable by the residents who pay for them. In Connecticut, the programs are administered by the local utilities, and overseen by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Board. Monthly board meetings are open to the public, with time set aside for public comment. Contacting them is easy.
There’s much more to be done to lower our energy costs. But understanding how we are doing by looking at the data is a good start.
Sabrina Szeto, Peter Ambiel, and Ceyda Durmaz contributed to this report.
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