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Agencies talk about weather

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Whether hot or cold, Arizona weather at its extremes is never easy to handle. It can be especially difficult with the cost of utilities and either the down job market or health gets in the way of paying for them.

That’s where weatherization comes in, a program that local agencies have been able to continue this year due to stimulus funds. From the single mom going to school in Bullhead City to the Domestic Violence Shelter in Casa Grande whose monthly utility costs have been cut in half, to the elderly couple in Tucson who can now remain in their home because of newly installed air-conditioning, weatherization is making a difference in people’s lives every day.

Community Action Human Resources Agency (CAHRA) celebrated Weatherization Day late last month with a breakfast and program at Pinal Gila Council for Senior Citizens on Friday, Oct. 29. A demonstration by the agency crew was later performed at the home of a program participant in Casa Grande.

CAHRA is doing its part to help Pinal County families deal with the burden of high energy and utility costs, in partnership with the Arizona Department of Commerce, Arizona Energy Office and several utility companies. CAHRA assists homeowners in permanently reducing their energy costs. They do this through education. With use of computerized energy audits and advanced diagnostics technologies, they can determine the most cost-effective measures for each home, along with evaluation of air quality and heat loss inside existing low-income homes. 

The findings from the weatherization audits result in the installation of energy-efficient appliances, insulation, smoke detectors, and other measures that improve the health and safety of the homes. The energy-efficiency measures are installed free-of-charge for qualifying low-income homeowners, and are designed to provide sustainable solutions to save money and conserve energy, year after year. 

“Pinal County homeowners who take advantage of this program will not only see smaller utility bills, but an improved quality of life.  The work that we do helps to take away some of the burden of keeping the house warm in the winter and cool in summer, so folks can put food on the table,” CAHRA Director Mary Lou Rosales explained. 

“Part of the mission of Pinal County,” said guest speaker, Pinal County Supervisor David Snider, “is to make sure that Pinal County has a quality of life that makes it a good place to life, and to work, and to raise a family…and part of that quality of life issue is our home.”

It helps especially now with everyone minding their pennies, which really do add up, he said. “Weatherization seems like such an odd thing to consider, but it makes all the difference. It gets downright brutal in the summer, and January it gets darn cold. We have all of the climates in Pinal County….weatherization actually saves lives.”

For every $1 government invests in weatherization, he explained, $2.69 is returned in energy and non-energy benefits. Since 1977, more than 16,500 in Arizona have received the benefits of weatherization. Nationally, 30.5 million BTU is saved every year, and brings heating fuel costs down by 23 percent. Weatherization lowers energy costs by $358 (at current pricing) for low-income families just within the first year.

On a national level, weatherization reduces energy demand by 18 million barrels of oil. At $100 a barrel, it saves $1.8 billion in costs, and creates 52 direct and 23 indirect jobs.

The Weatherization Assistance Program is funded by the Federal Department of Energy (DOE) and is administered by CAHRA. The national program budget has recently been increased under the current administration using stimulus dollars under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Arizona received $57 million ARRA dollars with a goal of 6,000 homes to weatherize.

The program’s other funding sponsors were recognized, including Arizona Energy Office with the Arizona Department of Commerce, Arizona Community Action Association, Arizona Public Service, Salt River Project and Southwest Gas Corporation.

Locally, the program contributes to strengthening social, economic and environmental progress by creating jobs, stimulating retail purchases in the community, improving housing stock and stabilizing neighborhoods. To date, CAHRA has weatherized 106 with the stimulus funding and 1,583 since the program started at CAHRA in 1983. Hundreds of jobs have been created through the weatherization program in Arizona. CAHRA hired five individuals while contractors were able to save several jobs and hire additional employees. 

“We have a lot to celebrate,” Ms. Lombardi said. “The board is very proud of the program and its employees in that they are very dedicated individuals and are doing wonderful work.”

Lucy Rangel, CAHRA, Housing Programs Manager, provided a summary of the program and how her staff has increased from two employees to seven employees and from weatherizing 40 units a year to over 100 a year with the stimulus funding. She also spoke about the benefits to the contractors who are working with the program. Rangel said that the funds have also allowed staff to work on multi-housing rental units allowing the benefits to also reach other low-income households that are not able to be homeowners.

Weatherization is the premier prevention program. The average family saves $300 to $400 a year. Their homes are healthier, safer and more energy efficient. For the low-income senior, that means more time in their home and perhaps less time in a nursing home being subsidized by taxpayer money.

For the disabled it can mean living independently and with dignity. For the low-income family it can mean staying in their home or feeding their families.

Adeline Allen, Director of Pinal County Division of Housing and Mary Duarte, Associate Director for Against Abuse, Inc., spoke about the impact of the weatherization program on their housing and in turn their program participants. Duarte explained that the agency staff had not only weatherized the women’s shelter and children’s shelter, but had installed solar panels for the electric water heaters they replaced. Over 500 women and children are sheltered by the agency each year.

“I am proud to report that the savings to the electric usage is $300 per month (25 percent reduction) at the women’s shelter and $250 (34.55 percent reduction) at the children’s shelter,” Duarte explained.

To date, 2,800 homes were completed and saved Arizona families approximately 5.5 million KW of electricity. Next year these figures will more than double. An added benefit is that most of this money has hit the streets and has kept small business owners afloat during these hard economic times.

Miquelle Scheier is the Weatherization Outreach Program Manager for Arizona Community Action Association. She is responsible for telling the weatherization story and how it benefits low-income homeowners across Arizona. She said the funds, especially the weatherization stimulus funds, are helping Arizonans in so many ways. These funds not only help homeowners and low-income renters to realize energy savings each month and put money back in their pockets for other necessities, but these funds create jobs for Contractors, and local businesses. This allows many businesses to keep their doors open during this time of economic challenge.

“This is a wonderful program, these stories should be told and the program celebrated,” Ms. Scheier said.

Ramon Medina of Medina Plumbing, sent a heartwarming letter and asked that it be read to the attendees. Ramon, like many other contractors, had been negatively affected by the economy and the construction industry. His business was on the verge of closing when he answered a weatherization Request for Quote. The outcome has been advantageous to the small company, not only allowing him to stay in business, but allowing him to hire additional staff.

Paul Ouellet, owner of Reddi Security and Electric had a similar story. After laying off staff, he was faced with closing his business and losing his home. The weatherization program made it possible for him to bid jobs, allowing him to stay in business and keep his home. Paul said that the “weatherization program threw him a life line.”

Lindsey Gemme
The Eloy Enterprise