For over a decade, Acadia Center has been working to ensure that energy efficiency is available to the most vulnerable residents of Connecticut, and the Covid-19 pandemic has made the need for these services even more stark. One significant barrier to installing needed weatherization and efficiency services is that about 23% (almost ¼) of all homes that go through an audit in the programs are deferred and not served due to what are known as “health and safety barriers” such as mold, asbestos or vermiculite, and knob and tube wiring, which are rampant in older and neglected housing stock. What’s worse, the housing with such health and safety barriers are likely the homes most in need of weatherization and treatment by the programs to address their old and leaky spaces. Since repairs to fix these health and safety barriers are not funded through the efficiency programs, that means that no further efficiency work can be done in those homes, at least not without a major investment of funds that homeowners lack. The lack of weatherization is costing residents of those homes at least an additional $1,000 a year in higher heating bills (and potentially more than $2,000 for homes using oil or propane).
In 2013, Acadia Center participated in a study with other stakeholders exploring the need for energy efficiency to be available to the most vulnerable residents in the state, which resulted in 7 recommendations, including providing funding and financing to resolve the health and safety barriers that would cause eligible households to be deferred from weatherization. However, this study didn’t lead to change at the time.
Through holding a position as Vice Chair of the Energy Efficiency Board (EEB) in Connecticut, Acadia Center was able to keep this issue as a top concern and over the past year, Acadia Center staff worked extensively with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to organize two workshops to discuss the issue of health and safety barriers. One idea that emerged from these workshops is to use federal funds from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to address health and safety remediation in targeted homes. Acadia Center asked DEEP to reach out to the Department of Social Service (DSS) to enable this policy change, and in early April, the LIHEAP board voted to allow $2M in funding to address these barriers, beginning in January 2022. This is the first time that LIHEAP funds have been allocated towards health and safety barriers, hopefully setting a precedent that can be followed for years to come.