by Lolita M. Perry | Chilling winds blow through the cracks of poorly insulated windows, doors, and attics, forcing millions of Americans to hike up thermostats during the winter to keep warm and stay healthy. Summers are no different; homeowners find themselves running the air conditioner constantly to stay cool. Summer or winter, extreme weather conditions put babies, the elderly and persons with weakened immune systems at a higher risk for pneumonia, influenza, heat stroke and heart attack. For people of limited income, high energy costs often force them to live in unhealthy conditions or choose between paying energy bills or paying for other necessities such as food and medication. Improving efficiency to reduce energy costs and utility shut offs also reduces risk of fire from inappropriate use of kerosene lamps, ovens, and open flames and carbon monoxide poisoning from dilapidated boilers and furnaces. The bottom line is … energy efficient measures save lives.
In the District, where 2010 included both debilitating snowfalls and the highest average temperature on record, the city has redirected utility assessment funds into the Sustainable Energy Trust Fund and Energy Assistance Trust Fund and refocused efforts to help low-income residents receive efficiency upgrades.
DDOE’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), for example, provides financial energy assistance to eligible low-income District households for gas, electricity, or oil distributed over $22.5 million to assist approximately 31,600 low-income households with energy bills in fiscal year 2010. Income eligibility is set at 60 percent of the state median income, which equates to $40,982 for a family of four. The amount of the assistance is based on household size, total household income, heating source, and type of dwelling. DDOE also administers the Utility Discount Programs to provide special discounts on electric, gas, telephone and water bills for District consumers that meet certain income eligibility criteria. These programs are known as PEPCO’s Residential Aid Discount (RAD), Washington Gas’s Residential Essential Service (RES), Verizon’s and Nationsline Lifeline Service, and DC Water’s Customer Assistance Program (CAP).
When residents apply to DDOE for energy assistance, they are also encouraged to apply for weatherization services. DDOE’s certified energy auditors provide free home energy audits and qualified contractors install audit-identified measures, such as energy efficient lighting upgrades, insulation, weather stripping, windows/door replacement, heat pump repair/replacement, hot-water heater replacement/wraps, faucet aerators, showerheads, and programmable thermostats, in low-income dwellings. In fiscal year 2010, 1,406 inefficient refrigerators and/or air conditioners and 230 heating systems were replaced, and 420 homes received upgrades such as energy efficient lighting, insulation, weather stripping, windows/door replacement, heat or hot-water system upgrades, faucet aerators, showerheads, or programmable thermostats at no cost to the resident. Physical upgrades were matched with homeowner education and awareness programs to promote behavior that saves energy, money, and lives.
DDOE is also about to embark on an ambitious program to create a Sustainable Energy Utility (SEU). As required by the Clean and Affordable Energy Act of 2008, DDOE will soon contract with a third-party entity to implement citywide performance-based energy efficiency programs. The SEU is tasked with reducing energy use and increasing efficiency. It will also be required to ensure that at least 30 percent of the annual budget(rising to $20 m by 2014) is spent to address the needs of low-income households. Look for more information in coming editions of Foliage on the start-up and progress of the SEU.
The relationship between energy efficiency and the health and welfare of our city’s most vulnerable populations is clear. Because demand for services exhausts local and federal resources, the District works hard to coordinate programs, increase program efficiency, and put in place innovative solutions to help save energy and save lives.
For more information on DDOE’s Clean and Affordable Energy Act programs, visit www.greenenergy.dc.gov
Lolita Perry is an Energy Program Specialist at the District Department of the Environment (DDOE).