by Senator Susan Collins
As I talk to people around our state, I hear time and again how concerned they are about the price of home heating oil and how worried they are that they might not be able to heat their homes.
One of the most effective and immediate ways we can help people stretch their energy dollars is throughout weatherization. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, insulating walls and attics, sealing drafty doors and windows, and repairing or replacing outdated or faulty heating equipment can save, on average, as much as 32 percent in fuel consumption.
For more than 30 years, the Department’s Weatherization Assistance Program, or WAP, has helped low-income families, seniors, and individuals with disabilities make lasting energy-efficiency improvements to their homes, freeing up resources for other essentials like food and medicine. During the past 33 years, WAP has provided weatherization services to more than 6.4 million low-income households, reducing their annual energy bills by an average of $437. In addition, a study by Oak Ridge National Laboratory found that for every $1 invested in the program, weatherization returns $2.51 in benefits to the household and society.
Last year, the program suffered a 60-percent funding cut from the amount provided just the year before. Though the cut was mitigated by funding that had been carried over that allowed states to maintain their weatherization programs, I am concerned that the WAP program will face a similar budget situation this year. Because any extra funding has already been spent, states will face serious challenges to maintain functioning weatherization programs unless some funding can be restored.
Recently, I joined several colleagues, including independent Sen. Angus King, also of Maine, in writing to the secretary of the Department of Energy, Steven Chu, urging him to use any administrative authority available to provide sufficient funding for the weatherization program this year. This would help states maintain an effective program.
As we wrote in our letter, we certainly recognize the challenges on the department’s budget, but we believe priority should be placed on programs that support jobs, assist with the nation’s economic recovery, and help meet important goals like improving efficiency to reduce energy costs. In this spirit, we are urging the Department of Energy to ensure sufficient investment in initiatives like WAP that reduce costs for households and return significant benefits to society. In fact, the economic benefits of weatherization are substantial. Each weatherized household, of course, has more money to spend on other necessities that it would have spent on heating an inefficient house. This is especially important for low-income households, which typically spend 14 percent or more of their income on energy.
I am pleased that, during recent debate on the Budget Resolution, my colleagues unanimously supported a bipartisan amendment that I offered along with Senator Jack Reed, D-RI, that would add $50 million in budget authority for WAP next year. Congress still needs to appropriate those funds.
Weatherization is labor-intensive, so it is a valuable job-creator, especially in low-income communities. WAP has helped grow a local home energy industry that serves business and households of all income levels. Nationwide, it is estimated that weatherization supports 25,000 good-paying jobs.
In addition, there are safety benefits. Many of the homes eligible for weatherization are older and often have faulty wiring, furnaces, boilers, or chimneys. The technicians who enter homes often spot problems that put the residents at risk and correct them.
Adequate funding for the Weatherization Assistance Program is essential for people here in Maine and across the country. The investment in weatherization will pay dividends for years to come.