June 29, 2015

The Home Performance Coalition questioned recent criticisms of residential low-income programs after a report was issued last week, causing an industry-wide conversation about the Weatherization Assistance Program.

“The Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) is critical to providing healthy, energy-efficient housing for low-income families across the country,” said Brian Castelli, President and CEO of the Home Performance Coalition. “Recent criticisms of this program in the E2e Project report fail to recognize the full value of energy efficiency programs. By weighing only the costs and few of the many benefits of energy efficiency, these criticisms of the WAP fall into a trap of drawing conclusions based on unbalanced analysis.”

The WAP program is designed to improve the quality of life for low-income residents so that they can live through bad weather and remain in their homes. The program fixes homes that have deferred maintenance and often major comfort and health problems by closing the leaks around doors and windows and making other sensible and cost-effective upgrades. Without WAP, states and utilities must tap limited dollars to help poor families meet their energy needs.

The NRDC points out in its staff blog: “If you read the study details, the authors are clear that these research finding are not widely applicable to energy efficiency, or even necessarily to other weatherization programs. However, the news release was not so careful and as a result, many news stories are reaching the wrong conclusion. In fact, low-income programs serve a much broader purpose than just maximizing energy savings per dollar spent or with the primary goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They are focused on improving the health and well-being of low income residents, especially those most vulnerable, such as children and the elderly.”

Martin Kushler, senior fellow at ACEEE, had spot on analysis on this issue: “ACEEE’s most recent review of energy efficiency program costs similarly found that average cost per saved kWh from residential and low-income programs combined across 9 states was 3.7 cents/kWh. This is less than half the cost of electricity from a new power plant, and obviously very cost effective. And without including any monetized value for CO2 reductions, the CO2 reductions are essentially a ‘free" extra benefit.’”

HPC has worked on recommendations to improve the weatherization program as well as the analysis of energy programs across the country to advance best practices and more engagement with the private sector to leverage public monies and create jobs. HPC has also worked to develop recommendations to advance the Resource Value Framework as a guide to valuing energy efficiency programs. (See more at http://www.homeperformance.org.) HPC’s research, policy, and conference agenda have aimed to help members of the industry thrive and we are disappointed that a study making such broad claims would rely on a limited number of perspectives. 

“As we see new technology innovation in residential energy efficiency, coupled with decreasing public dollars, we need to continue to innovate to ensure we have cost-effective programs. Some programs are better than others, but energy-efficiency is clearly our cheapest and cleanest energy resource. We should be looking for ways to advance our energy programs, not discount their benefits,” noted Castelli.

Non-energy benefits such as air quality, health, job creation, comfort, and environment are especially crucial to fully understanding the value derived from low income energy efficiency programs. The current evaluation practices of energy efficiency programs too often penalize or ignore the non-energy benefits of energy efficient programs and drive down critical investments needed in the residential community.

“We should be leveraging non-energy benefits to encourage consumers to invest in energy efficiency – a clear public good. Limited studies that do not take into account the full range of cost and benefits and the many different innovative policies and programs that are emerging in this residential space, do a disservice to the energy and climate policy dialogue,” said Castelli.

For more information on the Home Performance Coalition, please visit http://www.homeperformance.org.

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