Will There Be An Increased Emphasis on Energy Efficiency in 2013?

With President Obama embarking on a second term, and mounting pressure for the new Congress to act on the country’s many challenges, including the negative effects of climate change, 2013 could bring landmark change. Will this be the year we see a shift in energy policy that places greater emphasis on reduced waste and energy efficiency as a counterbalance to the costly and environmentally questionable production of national energy sources?

With approximately 40% of all energy use in the United States powering commercial and residential buildings, we can make a significant impact on the nation’s energy consumption through energy efficiency retrofits. Investments in such retrofits reduce fuel bills while spending dollars in our communities, creating good local jobs and ensuring a cleaner, less wasteful economy.

The Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) is a key component of an increased focus on energy efficiency. The program’s mission to increase the energy efficiency of homes occupied by low-income persons and reduce their fuel bills while improving health and safety is a strong basis upon which to build a national energy efficiency strategy. The program is a best practice model that accomplishes large savings in some of the nation’s most inefficient dwellings while reducing the economic disparity of low-income Americans, who spend a much higher percentage of their incomes on energy costs. WAP has been very successful in the more than 7 million homes that have been retrofitted, saving families an average of $250 to $450 per year in heating, cooling, and electricity costs, depending on the housing type, location, and fuel source. The program has continued to evolve in its 30-plus-year history while maintaining its core value of providing a positive return on investment to meet the primary objectives of making homes more energy efficient.

The continued relevance of WAP isn’t only related to a response to the energy burden of low-income families. The technology utilized in the program is the most innovative and cost-effective available, and has helped establish national guidelines for residential energy efficiency retrofits, as well as provided a model for private businesses entering this growing field.

The Guidelines for Home Energy Professionals project is a collaborative effort to engage the home performance industry in developing a suite of resources that includes work quality specifications, training program accreditation, job task analyses, and certifications for workers. The goal of the Guidelines is to help WAP demonstrate the quality of the program as well as serve a national need to create a vital and robust home energy upgrade industry. Over the course of its history, WAP has been a pioneer in deploying technology and facilitating greater industry adoption of more efficient and effective practices and tools. Through these tools, the program will continue to help define residential energy upgrade work as a distinct and professional industry, and as a desirable and sensible product for consumers.

WAP has also benefited the construction industry and given a boost to American manufacturers and small businesses. The program supports thousands of local businesses, providing a marketplace for innovation in the energy retrofit industry. The materials for residential energy efficiency retrofits are overwhelmingly American made, and the workers providing the upgrades are well-trained technicians whose jobs cannot be outsourced. During the peak of the Recovery Act, the program created 15,000 jobs to complement the existing workforce of approximately 10,000 workers, providing WAP ser vices in every state and community in the country.

Dissecting the dollars expended in the program, an estimated 25% are used for the materials installed to make homes more energy efficient. Another estimated 10% are used for tools, supplies, and diagnostic equipment to identify and perform the retrofits. Both of these investments have the added value of benefiting the supply-side businesses. The vast majority of the balance of WAP spending is for the salaries of the energy auditors, crew supervisors, and weatherization technicians—skilled jobs that have a real impact on local economies and families throughout the nation.

With the energy savings and healthier homes enjoyed by the program recipients, the jobs created, the reduction in greenhouse emissions, the positive impact on American manufacturing and small businesses, and the provision of a foothold for an expanded residential energy efficiency market, WAP remains a relevant and integral investment for an energy efficient future.