Lessons from the U.S: Low-income EE Programming

Webinar on January 13, 2022

Diana Morales, Research Analyst, and Steve Nadel, Executive Director of ACEEE join us to talk about low-income programming in the U.S., including the Weatherization Assistance Program and Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. They compare notes on some of the metrics of programs in each country, and discuss what Canada can learn from their recently released report, Meeting the Challenge: A Review of Energy Efficiency Program Offerings for Low-Income Households.

Abhilash Kantamneni provides a Canadian comparison from the “Efficiency for All” report released last year, followed by a discussion about what Canada can learn from the United States.

Speakers:

Diana Morales, Research Analyst, ACEEE

Steve Nadel, Executive Director, ACEEE

Abhilash Kantamneni, Research Associate, Efficiency Canada

Facilitator:

Allison Mostowich, Director of Engagement, Efficiency Canada

Transcript:

Steve Nadel: The weatherization program was originally enacted in 1976. They had a couple of pilot programs before. This is following the oil embargo in the early seventies. The program has been continued throughout since 76.

They obviously celebrated their 45th anniversary, not too long ago in a continuing straw. Currently, the program funds the full cost of weatherization for income eligible homes up to about $8,000 per home, and there’s lots of asterisks and whatnot. Let’s just say about 8,000. This includes things like insulation ceiling of air, air sealing, duct ceiling heating and cooling system repairs, and sometimes replacement.

And in some cases it actually includes new refrigerators. It includes single family homes, but also rental and apartments. They can do individual apartments ,what relates to the apartment, but with central systems, if two thirds of the units are eligible, they can also start working on central systems for those buildings.

Income eligibility is primarily 200% of the US federal poverty level, which in 2022 is about an income of 55,000 American dollars for a family of four. I haven’t seen the 2023 figures yet, but I’m sure they will be higher given inflation. As of 2016 about 7.6 million homes were weatherized I suspect by now we’re probably just north of 8 but I didn’t find any recent accounting on that.

In our new fiscal year – our fiscal year begins October 1st – they appropriated 366 million for the program from Congress. In addition, there are some funds from the LIHEAP program, which I’ll talk about in a second. Some states add funds, and then a whole bunch of utilities have funds as well for sometimes directly contributed, more often as complimentary funding as Dee will talk about.

A companion program is a low income home energy assistance program called liheap. This helps pay the energy bills of income qualified homes. It was originally heating focused but in recent years, the cooling focus has expanded because particularly in the Southern US, we have some pretty high air conditioning bills in houses that are poorly weatherized.

The LIHEAP program is administered by states and local community action agencies. Same as weatherization. I’ll get into that more later. The annual appropriation has been about 4 billion for this. Energy bills are substantial. Energy burdens are high. There are maximum annual grants per household under the program, which vary somewhat from state to state.

There are not enough funds to serve all eligible households, so it tends to be first come, first serve, and one of the questions is, do you serve more families for lesser? Do you just say, we’ll give more money and then the money will run out. Now up at State option, and many states do this, up to 15% of the LIHEAP funds can be used for weatherization.

So if it’s 4 billion dollars that could be a lot of money. Even more comes from the LIHEAP budget than can directly come from the weatherization budget. So in general, for both of these programs, the department of Energy Funds programs and establishes rules and guidelines. Funds are allocated to states who often do training on a statewide or regional basis, but they pass most of the funds onto local program Administrators are typically community action agencies based in major metropolitan areas and serving outlying areas as well.

For weatherization, the local administrators often have their own weatherization crews that they hire, but in some cases they hire independent contractors. I would note that we have two relatively recent bills. The infrastructure, investment and Jobs Act, sometimes called the Infrastructure bill and the Inflation Reduction Act, IIJA as it sometimes called, allocated 3.5 billion to the program to expand operations, and that’s spread over five years. But quick Division says that’s another 700 million per year. Some states will probably use it more quickly and hope that additional funds come later. IRA included a variety of complimentary programs 4.5 billion for home retrofits administered by states.

That’s for with higher incentives for moderate income households where moderate income is 80% of the area median income, which is a little bit higher than the weatherization level. They have another four and a half billion for electrification incentives. That goes up to 150% of area median, but higher incentives if you’re 80% of area median. Billion dollars to the Department of Housing and Urban Development for efficiency and resiliency improvements to assisted housing.

And then there’s another 35 billion to e p A for loans and grants to reduce greenhouse gases with a focus on disadvantaged communities. All the details, particularly of that last one are still to be determined. But so lot of funds coming into this in addition to the regular appropriations. Next there’s also been legislation proposed last year, and I’m pretty sure will be proposed again this year, although I don’t know what its chances are.

It would raise the cap to about $12,000 per unit from the current eight. Would establish a separate pot of funds for weatherization readiness. One of the big issues is sometimes they can’t do a home because of health and safety concerns. If there’s a hole in the roof, they don’t want to insulate it and have the insulation get wet.

There’s a little bit of funds now provided, but this would significantly increase that and allow them to do more preparation work in order to allow weatherization. And they also are trying to make it a little easier to re weatherize some homes. If somebody was weatherized back in 1976, there’s a good chance things have deteriorated and they may be ready again.

With that, I guess I will turn it either back over to Abhi or is it going directly to D?

Diana Morales: Looks like it’s over to me. Thanks Steve. Yeah, so before I dive into an overview of our study background and objectives and since we’ll be switching gears a bit I’d like to explain the relationship between the federal low income energy programs that Steve just mentioned and the low income programs that utilities administer.

Our study is called meeting the Challenge, a Review of Energy Efficiency program offerings for low-income households. And it provides a deeper dive into utility rate, payer funded low-income programs are typically programs that are funded through surcharges on customer bills. So you might be wondering how these utilities take advantage of programs like WAP and liheap.

Often utilities leverage funding from WAP and LIHEAP and other sources to support or supplement their low income energy efficiency programs. Utilities often work with WAP and LIHEAP partners to share leads on potential program participants or contractors. Increase participation, reduce administrative costs, and streamline outreach to name a few.

So a quick overview of the study backgrounds and objectives. Now that I’ve discussed how these programs fit in with federal programs, Our recently published report was actually an update to a previous paper we published in 2017. And the previous report provided a baseline assessment of low income energy efficiency programs in which we analyzed low income programs from 70 electric and natural gas utilities in the us.

The paper explored things like program spending, savings program participants, the types of measures offered and explored best practices. So this research allowed us to compare among low income utility program efforts and also identified some best practices for program design. So in addition to taking a look at how things have changed over the years we also sought to understand the questions here.

So using utility data from 2019, we asked how do utility programs compare across spendings savings, customer served, who’s achieving deep savings and also serving many households? How well are the utilities serving their low income populations and what percentage of populations actually receive services from each utility?

And last but not least two utilities have equity related goals. And if so, what do these look like? So there’s a lot of nuances to the data and some limitations that we had. So if you’re interested in reading more about these these types of things and taking a closer look at the data, we have a spreadsheet available that accompanies the report on our website for the public to explore.

And of course, we encourage you to take a look at the whole report to get a more holistic picture. So now I’m gonna briefly discuss some benchmarking figures we found in our study. And the first is low income program spending as a percentage of total efficiency program spending.

So most utilities have market rate program energy efficiency programs that are separate from low income energy efficiency programs. So taking a look at total energy efficiency budgets to comparing that to the total spent on low income programs specifically. We found a median of about 13% of programs spending for both natural gas and electric utilities.

So this means that utility programs dedicate about 13% of their budgets to low income programs. And this is significantly less than the approximate 27.5% of US households that are considered low income through the federal threshold. So this indicates that for many utilities, low income communities are not receiving an equitable share of funding.

As I mentioned earlier, we also looked at spending per program participant. We found that the average spending per program participant was around $2059 in 2019. And in our study we make distinction between two types of programs. So comprehensive programs that often spend more than $4,000 per participant and low cost programs that generally spend less than $500 per participant.

And while both are useful, comprehensive programs typically provide long-term deep savings and benefits to participating households. And on the other hand, low cost programs often serve a lot of households, but have modest efficiency benefit. . The last point here that we highlight is participation rate in low income programs.

So most utilities don’t serve all customers that are eligible or could take advantage of low income utility programs. So this speaks to things like outreach and marketing, ease of participation in the program, et cetera. And using estimations from the US Census Bureau, we found that in 2019 the average program provided services to about 5% of eligible households.

Some programs in our sample provided up to 57%. But this was a wide ranging utility program focused on distributing light bulbs. And again, these types of measures like providing light bulbs while they can reach a lot of households provide small benefits. So now I’d like to move on to discussing some key design best practices that we identified in our study, as well as other AC triple E research focused on low income energy efficiency programs. And the first that we’d like to highlight here is community engagement. So to build successful programs and accurately assess the needs and challenges of customers, it’s really important to create processes that center and meaningly engage low income households of colors, and communities that experience historic divestment so that they are able to contribute and define and drive program outcomes.

Using a one-stop shop approach is another good design practice. It minimizes barriers to participation and allows all available resources to be in one place. Creating a single point of contact and using a one-stop shop approach simplifies access and information for eligible households to access different complimentary programs that may exist.

There’s often a lot of programs that have overlapping goals. So it’s important to connect households to these opportunities and minimize confusion by helping navigate existing opportunities. Creating fuel neutral programs allows energy efficiency measures to be completed in a home regardless of the utilities that service it.

And there are several examples of this in our sample in our study. Market segmentation is another good design practice and these programs are designed to specifically meet the needs of subsets of households. For example programs that target multi-family buildings in particular households with elderly people or programs that target households that rely on medical devices, for example.

Funding and financing is obviously a big one. It’s important to leverage diverse funding sources, including the private sector, philanthropy, public health funding, et cetera. And this allows for stronger programs with long lasting impact.

And another very important thing to mention here that Steve alluded to earlier, is the importance of health and safety measures. In the US a lot of households can’t participate in the WP program because there’s a lot of preexisting issues such as mold or roof issues that prevent weatherization prep from happening. So including health and safety measures in these programs is really important so that they can reduce deferral rates and improve quality of life.

Another one we’d like to mention is direct install and rebate programs. These can encourage extensive improvements and for low income, single and multi-family projects. Direct installation programs that offer no cost energy efficiency measures can provide an opportunity to connect with building over owners complete on-site energy assessments, and encourage building owners to take advantage of rebates for more extensive projects and improvements.

For example one program in our sample combines an en a free energy audit with a direct installation of lighting and air sealing measures, and then refers these residents to rebates for other measures. And in particular, this program, the energy audit, is free for low income customers, and the incentives available to them are a lot higher than for market rate.

Up to a hundred percent for approved installation projects for example. And another one that we’d like to mention is to target high energy users and vulnerable households. Targeting households with indicators like high energy burdens which Steve mentioned earlier is household that’s typically spends more than 6% six or more percent of their annual income on energy bills.

And finding folks who fit within that category can generate the greatest energy savings and impact to these households. It’s also really important to track metrics on program outcomes and impacts. This is important to ensure accountability to program requirements and goals which I mentioned earlier should be co-created with the communities or populations they’re trying to serve.

And last but not least including workforce development and training components are very important. Something that keeps coming up in a lot of the conversations that I have about these programs is who’s actually going to go ahead and do these these jobs when there are workforce shortages and Gaps in the energy efficiency workforce.

Including these components is is a good practice and can have a really great impact especially if the programs prioritize career opportunities for local community members. And I think the last slide is just my contact information in case you’d like to reach me or have any questions.

So I’ll hand it over to Abhi. Thank you.

Abhi Kantamneni: Thank you so much Dee and Steve for bringing your insights from the United States. I will talk a little bit about what the low income energy efficiency programs look like from the Canadian perspective. About a few months earlier, I was gonna say earlier in the year, but we are in 2023 now.

So early last year in 2022, we efficiency Canada published a report called Efficiency for All, where we asked some of the similar questions that our friends across the border were asking. We looked at energy efficiency programs across Canada in every single province. Asked what are they doing, what is working, what’s not working and then publish a report.

So if you wanted a detailed breakdown and an interactive dashboard of existing low income energy efficiency programs in Canada go to Efficiency Canada’s website and look for energy efficiency for all the report on the database. Today I will talk very specifically about what the strengths of existing programs are what gaps there might be and how where we see a role for the federal government to play in closing some of those gaps.

As you, as folks in Canada might already know we here in Canada, we do not have a federal low income energy efficiency program. What we do have almost every single province, with the exception of Alberta, has a low income energy efficiency program. So basically, there’s about six different types of programs, but I’ll focus on three for this presentation.

The report details all different kinds, but so they fall into one of these three categories. So self-install programs are like d talked about. You’ll receive an energy saving kit, very shallow measures. You’ll get a couple of l d light bulbs, maybe a clothes line, maybe some weather stripping, some faucet aerators, measures that you as a tenant or a homeowner can install yourself.

Then there are direct install programs where you get a, like an energy walkthrough, someone comes to your place and install some of these same, almost same measures. In your home. And then the last would be a major upgrade, so comprehensive energy efficiency program. So they almost take like a whole home retrofit type of approach.

Some of these measures are deeper savings and longer term savings, like air sealing, attic installation, floor installation, and so on. And these programs, the major upgrades programs are more common, at least in Canada, on the east coast and in the Atlantic provinces. So in terms of what programs are good at and what they’re accomplishing in terms of quantitatively, we were able to break them down by the type of measures. So self-install programs that are cheaper, costless for the utility, energy saving kit would cost around less than a hundred dollars, are able to reach a lot of participants, but at the same time, they lead to very shallow energy savings. Direct install programs are about zero to 7% or 1% of eligible low income households.

And they result in some kind of moderate savings. And one thing to note is that, 1% or slightly under 1% participation rate and low income energy efficiency programs is about par with just general residential energy efficiency program participation rates in Canada. The interesting thing is a major upgrades program that install comprehensive measures are actually in Canada able to outperform some of these minor upgrades programs because they’ve existed for a long time. They have strong budgets and strong program participation, good market segmentation, some of the best practices that D talked about earlier. We are seeing evidence of their success in these direct install major upgrades program. The range of cost is higher because the measures are more comprehensive, but they result in deeper savings for participating household.

What programs are good at. Low income energy efficiency programs in Canada run at the provincial level are they’re engaging a lot of low income Canadians, especially given the gap here in Canada with the federal government not playing so much of a role in low income energy efficiency programs. Provinces are engaging around, I believe around 50 to 60,000 households across the country. Provinces spending around 120 million every year on low-income energy efficiency program. And that’s something that, that is definitely commendable. And what they’re really good at is the institutional knowledge. Market segmentation, knowing, building relationships with local delivery partners, local community action agencies and really reaching households that need it the most. There are some programs for example, off the top of my head, I can think of empower me in Alberta and N b c that works with what are typically called hard to reach households, newcomers as people with language barriers and delivers programs that meets people’s needs.

And so these are some of the existing strengths that existing programs we are able to offer. And we see a role for the federal government largely in being able to fill the gaps that that existing programs are not able to meet. So first thing is we believe that federal government can play a stronger role.

We saw the numbers from programs. We think that with the federal government can leverage the delivery capacity, the institutional knowledge, the local partnerships of existing programs to deliver deeper savings and more comprehensive measures for a greater number of households. Fuel switching is not a consistent feature in many provincial programs.

They’re siloed electric so for example, not any low income energy efficiency programs would upgrade a old inefficient fossil fuel heating for a more newer energy efficient heat pump, for example. That’s a role that the federal government in Canada can step into. Dee talked a little bit about weather pre weatherization or making the households weatherization ready.

Upgrading a roof or upgrading your electric panel. Some households need these upgrades in order for them to qualify in order for the energy efficiency measures to stick and take hold. Existing provincial programs don’t often have the budget to make health and safety upgrades and non-energy upgrades and federal government can play a role there and as just setting standards in being able to house reach households that need it the most.

How do we target seniors or other households that have challenges navigating complex systems to support and reaching households that have high energy burdens? Spend a disproportionate amount of their incomes on energy renters. These are households that existing programs are sometimes finding it hard to reach.

And I think the federal government can set the standards, set best practices, and develop Systems of support, that can help existing programs reach those targets. And if you agree with me and us and that the federal government in Canada can play a stronger role, you can take action today and you can go on our website and go to get involved, take action on energy poverty, or take action on low income energy efficiency. The budget is coming up pretty soon, now, just around the corner here in Canada. So there’s a bunch of actions you can take, you can ask for a meeting with your mp. We have a huge network of folks around the country who’ve already met with their mp and had a conversation with them about some of these topics.

And we have all the tools that you need. We can give you some literature that you can share with your mp. If you wanna write a letter to your MP or maybe even tweet at them, we have the tools that you would need to have a meaningful conversation with your MP so you can put this on their radar so the federal government can can play a leadership role in not just, lifting households out of energy poverty, and helping energy efficiency reach households the most, but in doing so, also take action and helping us get closer to our 2050 net zero goals. That’s it from the Gray Sweater gang here today. We will start taking questions. I’ll turn it over back to Alison and I can maybe stop sharing my screen.

Does that sound about right?

Allison Mostowich: You bet. Thanks so much. So before we get started with questions, I can definitely tell you that there’s one thing that I see that’s consistent across jurisdictions and that is terrible acronyms. I don’t think governments will ever get away from that!

Okay. So let’s get started with questions. This is for you D or Steve. How do US federal low income programs work with utility and other state programs, and how can they work together better?

Steve Nadel: Why don’t I answer the first part and let Dee answer the second part? Utilities will often refer people to the WAP program. The WAP program tends to be more comprehensive than most utility programs cuz they’re paying up an average of about $8,000 per unit. Sometimes utilities will contract with the weatherization agencies to add a little bit of additional funds that the weatherization agencies use.

So instead of 8,000 there, there may be 10,000. When I mentioned refrigerators, for example, that’s commonly a utility funded, not basic weatherization. But then there’s a lot of cross referrals as well. If someone applies to wap, they can’t serve ’em cuz of limited budget or because they’re a little higher income, they may refer to the utility.

And D I’ll let you answer the second part, how they can do better.

Diana Morales: Oh boy. I get the big one, . Yeah, I think there’s a lot of room for opportunity. There’s a lot of opportunities for improvements. And there’s a long list that I would say, but I think one of the biggest barriers to I’m thinking of WAP in particular, we’ve already mentioned over and over, is just the problem with deferral rates.

A lot of these houses need a ton of work before they can even start thinking of weatherization. And I think that Yeah getting that sort of squared away and reducing the deferral rate, I think is a really important thing to to do and to partner in doing removing participation barriers to these programs.

Just applying to them, understanding what they do and what they don’t do and really touching base with the communities that they serve. I think is an area that is definitely needed. And getting down to the community level, I think has often been seen as a barrier.

But I think working with community-based organizations getting down to the neighborhood level and really understanding barriers to even applying to these programs or what actually goes through these programs I think is something that could be improved. And I think we’re starting to see a little bit more of that.

I know that with the influx of funding, states are required to at least hold sessions to listen to community members talk about this and get their input. But if you really think about just holding an open session to listen to folks who’s gonna show up if if it’s in a time where a lot of these families might be working.

A lot of different barriers there, right? Just holding it open, I don’t think is necessarily a good practice or accessible, especially if these sorts of sessions are held in a language that people don’t speak. And so there’s a lot of things, small things like that, that I think could definitely be improved.

And then, bouncing off of what I just said about language and access, I think increasing marketing and really demystifying what weatherization is to, to people I think is something that could be improved. So those are a few of the things that I would say would probably make sense to improve moving forward.

And hopefully, we’ll see more of this like I said with some more money coming in as Steve mentioned.

Allison Mostowich: Fantastic. Thanks D.

So we’re on the subject of weatherization, the program right now. So maybe we’ll just keep with that line of questioning. So I’m gonna combine a question with one of the ones in the chat.

They’re just curious about what the overall goal of WAP is, whether it’s energy efficiency, affordability, or GHGs. And then the second part of the question is, why has it been so politically durable in the US over the decades? I think that’s something we definitely struggle with.

Steve Nadel: Okay. I think the prime purpose is affordability.

We’re trying to reduce the energy bills of households that are struggling with energy costs as well as many other things.

Yes, in recent years. G H G is a secondary objective and yes, it’s an energy efficiency, but ultimately it really is how do we reduce energy burdens? The durability, there’s been long bipartisan support for the program, from when it was enacted under president Ford, for those of you who are old enough to remember that and there’s been, I’d say, good bipartisan support for it historically.

President George W. Bush, this is one of his thousand points of light and he kept on proposing to increase the program. Yes, the more conservatives are hesitant for government expenditures now, so that I’m sure there’ll be some pressure to reduce funding now. But in general, it’s been broad bipartisan support and the need is so great.

We have more than 30 million homes that are eligible. As I said, we’ve done roughly 8 million so far. I just looked up the figures. We’re doing perhaps 200,000 a year. The need is so much greater than what we’re doing. We can’t declare success and move on.

Allison Mostowich: Definitely. Thanks, Steve. I think we all see that when it comes to some of the weather events that have recently happened in the States too.

Diana Morales: I also just wanted to mention that there’s a lot of reports out there that show I think a lot the attractive part of WAP is that you can really show like dollars to dollars, how much you are saving. And so there’s a lot of reports out there that continuously showed that investing in this returns.

And I think that’s that’s always really attractive, right? To conservatives especially, right? They’re hesitant to spend dollars on programs. If you show that you’ll get your money back and then some, I think it’s, that’s always an attractive proposition. So just wanted to add on to that.

Allison Mostowich: Yeah, great add. Thanks. Okay, let’s talk about, so you made some recommendations for low income programming, and one of them was targeting high energy users and the vulnerable population. So the question is, do the programs proactively approach high burden households, or do these people need to know about and approach the programs themselves?

Diana Morales: Yeah, so I would say that a lot of the states that are doing this proactively are being nudged by states. And a lot of states have pretty progressive targets to try to get ahead of this, especially following the pandemic. And seeing just how many people’s electricity was on the verge of being shut off or things like that.

And then holding off on that, a lot of states wanted to get ahead of this and are now requiring I think in Wisconsin I think is is a place that’s getting ahead of this. But yeah, so I think not all of them do it proactively, but we are starting to see that more a more often, and that, again, is coming from the state level.

And it’s a little difficult I think, sometimes for folks to do this, especially if they haven’t done an energy burden analysis. But, partnering and trying to find that data there’s a lot of different sources that could help utilities get the household level.

They obviously have one part of the of the equation, which is usage. And yeah, I think it’s starting to get to that level, but not everybody’s doing it as much as I think that we would like to see.

Steve Nadel: Quite a few utilities get referrals from their billing department when someone is challenged.

So at least they have trouble paying the bill. How high their burden is will vary, but that’s one thing that many utilities do.

Abhi Kantamneni: I would agree with all of that. And just add that oftentimes the burden of demonstrating that you qualify for a program often ends up resting with the household, the low income household that is already dealing with 900 different things on top of trying to see whether they qualify for a program or not.

An increased push from partners like utilities that have access to this data would significantly help households qualify. Oftentimes the balance is that yes, households that have a high cost burden would benefit the most from these savings, but it also adds a couple of steps to the process of selecting these households and qualifying them.

A lot of households, it’s easier to remember what their incomes are. Most households don’t know off the top of their head how much they paid. And then now you have to do math on top of all that. The pipeline of recruiting participants, anytime you add a little bit friction to the process, it, it leads to households not being able to participate.

So being able to balance these things would require a greater kind of commitment to data sharing and stuff from utilities and D is absolutely right. They have one half of the equation, which is energy costs. And it would be, in my view, fairly trivial for a utility to say, here’s our top thousand most high residential energy users.

Here’s X percent of them fall within a neighborhood zip code that has low median income, so let’s target this neighborhood for energy efficiency upgrades. We haven’t really seen anyone do that. That kind of, those kind of approaches would be great to.

Steve Nadel: Yeah, I would just add a couple of things there.

There are some states that are starting to look at capping energy bills as a percentage of income, Virginia, California come to mind. And they are trying to figure out, so how do they best access income data? Because obviously if they have income taxes, they do it, but there’s all sorts of confidentiality.

So I’m just saying they’re exploring it. No one’s quite worked it out yet. So that would be one thing. Another thing a number of states are doing is trying to say if you qualify for one program, you qualify for many. So certainly that often happens between lie heap and wap, cuz it’s usually the same agencies and if you qualify for one, you qualify for the other.

But some people we have what’s called the food stamp program. Sometimes it’s called the SNAP program and some states are saying if you’ve qualified for that, you’re eligible. And there could be more of that. But that’s one thing. Some states are doing a simplify thing.

Abhi Kantamneni: We have those here in Canada as well. If you qualify for some government assistance program that already has done the income verification, then you automatically qualify for the Energy Assistance program.

Allison Mostowich: Fantastic. Thank you. So this is a bit of a follow up to the income question and D, it might be a good one for you. I’m not sure you’ll be able to answer this because it might differ jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but did you get a pretty good sense of what the definition of the qualifying income, is it pre or post-tax?

So would it include income assistance in removing taxes paid or not? Did you get a pretty good sense from your report about that?

Diana Morales: Steve, do you know the answer to this? I can answer part of it, but not to the tax part.

Steve Nadel: Most of ’em use 200% of poverty. Some use different things and that does basically is just total income of which some gets paid by taxes.

But if you are a low income, often you do not have to pay taxes, at least federal taxes.

Diana Morales: Yeah. And we make a distinction in our in our study that for the most part and especially if you’re piggybacking off of definitions and using it for referrals and things like that folks typically tend to use 200% federal poverty line, but there are others that use area of median income, 60 to 80 area median income.

So it does depend on jurisdiction and utilities, depending on their program structure, how they like to do referrals, who their partners are. So it really depends. But yeah, that, that’s like the landscape in terms of who qualifies and who doesn’t.

Allison Mostowich: Thank you. Okay. The next question is about workforce training. Can you talk a little bit more about how workforce training is required and or integrated into the programs?

Steve Nadel: I can start with the weatherization program. And then Dee could add some things examples from utility. Weatherization: most, but not all states do provide training for the crews, for the staff, et cetera.

Ohio in particular comes to mind. They have a major weatherization training center that bring people into that. Other people just do move around the state and have it in some local hotel or whatnot. But the Ohio one, they actually have a lot of hands-on. And even the ones that don’t, there’re, sometimes they’ll work with local heating contractors or other people that get some hands-on.

So it’s not guaranteed, but often there is quite a bit of training for the cruises. But D, why don’t you add about utilities.

Diana Morales: Yeah. So this is an interesting one because when we asked one of the questions that we asked in our report was whether or not utilities have equity related goals. And if you’re interested in how ac e conceptualizes what equity is, we have a whole page on that and a section in the report that talks a little bit more on that. But most utilities that said that they do have goals like that cited their workforce development programs. And interestingly enough though, these programs don’t always target their service territories and are just broad nationwide in, in trying to increase the workforce and especially targeting underserved communities and community members.

So that’s a part of the picture. But as I mentioned, I think it would be it would behoove a lot of utilities to keep it within the community and look to their community members as potential leads for increasing their workforce. And yeah, I think, like I mentioned before, something that keeps coming up is just the shortage of people that work with with electrification and are familiar with these types of things. Increasing the number of contractors that are ready and able to do these sorts of jobs, I think is another very important complimentary part of this whole picture. It’s all for nothing if you don’t have the actual hands and boots on the ground doing the work.

So yeah, like I said, most of the utilities that responded to our equity questions said that they have these sorts of programs but they’re not necessarily within their jurisdiction or territory, just like nationwide.

Abhi Kantamneni: I did actually Pull up a question here that Alison, if you don’t mind, because we get asked this a lot and this question is for both of you, Dee and Steve. It’s regarding attribution. So the practical realities of different levels of governments working together on some, everyone’s got their own targets, everyone’s got their own metrics. You do a weatherization on a house, state government money has gone into it, federal government money has got gone into it. How do you attribute the savings to which level of government?

Like how has weatherization assistance program resolved these practical, like program administrator level questions?

Steve Nadel: I would say that the Federal Weatherization program says if we give the money, we’re gonna take credit. And other people are happy to take their money and are not looking to elbow in. Obviously the utilities take credit for when they spend funding, when they are mixed. It’s really decided at the state level, and that’s going to probably come in 50 different flavors.

Abhi Kantamneni: So is my understanding right that this kind of attribution agreement is almost negotiated at the State level?

Steve Nadel: The federal and the state don’t care that much about it. The utilities often do cause they have to prove to regulators. And yes, they are worked out by utility commissions, how much credit they get. Obviously if they spend the money and others don’t put it in, they get all the credit. But they figure out ways, that the feds put in 8,000 and they put in 2000, roughly speaking, they get a quarter, 20% of the credit.

But it will vary.

Allison Mostowich: Fantastic, thanks. So there’s a really good question in here about the contractors that deliver these sorts of programmings. Which is always, Dee, were talking about workforce. I think this is a really good next question. Do you have examples of how to overcome pricing barriers for contractors interested in working in these programs?

And just to note that we often see contractors passing on this type of work due to lower profit margins than you would see with other projects.

Steve Nadel: To oversimplify, one, you have weatherization that does their own crew, so that takes care of it often. But when they use contractors, they usually are bulk procurements. So the utilities or the state agencies or local agencies can get, okay, we’ll give you a hundred jobs, what’s the price going to be?

And whether it’s per home or it’s agreed, rates per square foot of insulation, et cetera. They tend to get pretty good prices. These are not programs, by and large, where individual homeowners have to get contractors and at that point it’s up to the contractor to decide how much do I think I can charge and still get the job?

Abhi Kantamneni: Right on. Let me jump ahead again, Alison, if you don’t mind, cuz this we get asked offline often which is: are there any examples of non-traditional funding sources? So yes, utility, energy efficiency program, money goes in, LIHEAP, WAP, but what about maybe, department of Health, department of Housing.

Can anyone throw money in this pot that the federal government is sharing? And is there any standout examples that you think you can share with us?

Steve Nadel: I will add two things. Yes, anybody could throw money into a Anybody could also do a complimentary program. And frankly, the latter is more common than “oh gee, we’ll just give you money.” But I would note I just looked up, we had a program called arpa which gave some money to states and localities to help deal with the expenses of covid. Some states put in ARPA funds. Sometimes local foundations will put in money. States obviously sometimes put in money, sometimes localities put in money.

And in a few states it’s not so much a direct contribution, but the health departments have decided that there are health benefit of weatherization usually targeting the like household with asthma or other cardiopulmonary diseases that they have data to say they are avoiding emergency room visits by helping to reduce drafts, mold, et cetera.

And there are a few programs, they are relatively rare and we are encouraging more people to do this for actual health dollars are being used for weatherization as preventative healthcare.

Abhi Kantamneni: Gotcha. Thanks Steve. And then this is again one thing we get asked a lot, which is I’ll be honest because I can say this, maybe because I used to live in the United States and moved here to Canada, but a lot of us here in Canada are jealous of your weatherization assistance program cuz it’s been running successfully for more than four decades and so on.

But if you had to set it up from scratch your path dependent, the program is run the way it’s been run for the past 40 years. If you could maybe go back into the past and redo it all over again, that’s always a tough one, and given that there’s potentially an opportunity to do that here in Canada, cuz we don’t have a federal program, like what advice would you have for us in terms of starting from scratch?

Steve Nadel: Good question. I’ll give you a few thoughts off the top of my head, but you, I’ll think about it more. But I also, I could refer you to some people who do a lot more with weatherization than I do and we do. Having the money go to the state level and then somewhat the local level is very useful. I don’t know what the appropriate, do you have equivalent of community action agency who does a lot of the low income programs already as opposed to trying to set up something new?

That is useful, definitely including training, definitely having some flexibility. We made the mistake that we’re gradually trying to correct of not including enough money for repairs. So helping to address that. The amount of money per home has steadily increased. When I first started working with this program, back when I was in grade school, no it wasn’t that long ago, it was like $1,500 per home, right?

So now we’re up to 8,000 and we may move to 12, but this work is not inexpensive. Try to do that as well. I would say some of the programs I’ve seen more recently, they tend to use contractors and hire in bulk as opposed to go through all the expense and trouble of hiring their own crews.

That said, I think it makes sense to, if you do that, put some requirements on these contractors that you must bring X percent of your workers from some of these communities. The advantage of the crews is you tend to hire from low income communities. They don’t go to the Beverly Hills equivalents for weatherization workers. So how do you melt that? D would you add anything else there?

Diana Morales: I would agree with everything you just said for the most part. Yeah if I were to go back and try to change things perhaps coupling it with with solar or some sort of like renewable component obviously starting with efficiency and then moving on to things like renewables I think would be really beneficial.

Especially if you look at G H G goals and prospects there. So that’s, I think that’s, that, that’s the first thing that came to mind. And I think, yeah. I doubt that this was co-created with the communities it’s trying to serve so that I’m a big proponent of engaging communities and not making assumptions on what’s needed.

Because, whatever is needed varies from community to community. And yeah, I think moving away from I think, while En energy burdens are, a good economic indicator. I think there’s a lot of other vulnerabilities that people should look at. And I think ac research, while we focus a lot on energy burdens we’re moving a little bit more towards energy affordability and energy and security, and noting that a lot of households for example engage in unsafe behaviors like turning on the oven or, turning on gas stoves to heat their homes if it’s not warm enough.

So keeping an eye towards things like that and not just like economic indicators, also like bolstering non economic sort of indicators and making it more holistic is I think, a pretty broad stroke thing to say, right? There’s a lot involved in that, but I would say that would be, part of my response.

But I think Steve’s right. I think I would like to give this a little bit more thought and give some more bullet points, but that’s, on the whole, what I would say.

Abhi Kantamneni: And then embedded in there I think is like the renters piece, right? How do you make this program available for renters?

Cuz I, my understanding is weatherization does work a little bit with renters. I know Steve, you talked about that, but most of it is for homeowners. And here in Canada, a third of Canadians now are renters. And the percentage is growing every year. And I saw a question in the chat too about renters. And I can say from our perspective here in Canada, we are right now working on a report looking at how we can advance energy efficiency in the rental sector, private rental sector, which is a significant challenge. Given like split incentives who, landlord pays for the upgrades but didn’t pay the rents level, that sort of thing.

What we’re finding, I think some major recommendation things that are working in some of the jurisdictions are that ensuring that these upgrades don’t lead to displacement and disruption for tenants during the retrofits or after and having some kind of affordability covenants so that landlords not increase the rents when they receive federal funding to do these upgrades.

These are some of the practices we’re seeing based on our understanding about the jurisdictions. Is there anything you’d like to add to that on how we can expand this program for renters?

Steve Nadel: To some extent, I think it may make sense to target the landlords and whole buildings as opposed to individual tenants.

And then does two thirds of ’em qualify? Yes. You have to figure out what buildings are eligible. . But if you can do a whole building and work with the landlord directly, as opposed to take many months working with tenants before you finally get around to approaching the landlord, it might be much easier.

Diana Morales: Yeah. I think the affordability covenants, I think is a really important thing to mention. We don’t want to exacerbate any problems with displacement because of trying to do one thing and then doing harm in another place.

So that’s I’m really glad you mentioned that and that’s a really important piece that I would absolutely recommend embedding in, in these sorts of things.

Allison Mostowich: Abhi, we have a question in the chat about the report you’re working on, cuz you are working on some tenant rights work. So did you wanna talk a little bit about that and we’ll close on that as well as timelines.

Abhi Kantamneni: Right on. Yeah. So we’re working on a a report on increasing energy efficiency in the private rental space. A vast majority of Canadians, I believe 90% of renters in Canada live in private rentals not affordable housing or, social housing or community housing that’s administered by the government.

So how do you improve energy efficiency in a landscape where landlords are responsible for the cost of making upgrades, but perhaps don’t pay the bills? Tenants pay the bills, they don’t often have the permission or the ability to make the upgrades. A report will be coming out sometime soon probably towards the end of this month. What we’re learning is that there’s a huge opportunity for taking action. Two-thirds of low income Canadians are renters, and about three-fourths of them live in older housing, like before 1990 when energy efficiency was not a part of the building codes and renters are like twice as more likely to use inefficient heating like baseboard heating or radiators and things like that.

So we are making some recommendations for government, like using no cost upgrades as a foundation because it’s unlikely that private landlords are going to invest significant amount of money in making these investments. Affordability covenants was mentioned requiring that landlords who receive funding from the government keep their units affordable so that the benefits of these upgrades ultimately accrue to tenants and tenants having a right to legal representation in the event that they are experiencing some negative impacts, either from like displacement after the retrofit measures are installed and so on.

 Tenants having the right to maintain residence. So in case they need to move out because house needs to be upgraded, they have the right to offer refusal to return back to the unit. They have the right of first refusal. So there’s a bunch of these policies. So what we’re doing is we’re taking building energy efficiency policies and policies that can improve building energy performance and then combining that with policies that can improve housing stability for renters.

Pulling together a couple of mix of policies so that we can demonstrate that we don’t have to actually treat these are trade offs that we can actually pursue housing stability and building performance as complimentary goals.

 

 

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