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CVPS windfall plan is good for ratepayers

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

A broad group of organizations focused on energy efficiency, clean energy, green jobs, affordable housing, and the needs of low-income Vermonters has expressed their support for the decision of the Department of Public Service that the $21 million “windfall” payment resulting from the CVPS/GMP merger will be invested in efficiency and clean energy programs to benefit CVPS ratepayers.

This is a thoughtful decision by the DPS, and CVPS ratepayers should be very enthusiastic about the opportunities it will offer them. In our work with Vermonters facing financial hardships, we have seen that energy costs are one of their biggest concerns. They are struggling to manage their energy budgets, especially for heating. This investment will allow more CVPS customers to save a significant amount of money on the soaring cost of heating their homes for years to come. It will be especially beneficial for elderly and disabled individuals, single-parent families, and other households with special challenges to making ends meet. And it will enable the state's LIHEAP fuel assistance dollars to go further by reducing the energy use of fuel program recipients.

Last year, the homes of 1,722 Vermont households received comprehensive, state-of-the-art energy efficiency services and 341 had their heating systems repaired or replaced, through the statewide low-income Weatherization Assistance Program. The average energy savings for these households was a remarkable 37.6 percent, resulting in an average savings per year of 270 gallons of No. 2 heating oil, or more than $1,000 per year at today's price of $4. The total statewide combined first year savings in No. 2 heating oil alone was 464,940 gallons, or a savings of almost $1.86 million at the current price. That annual savings has been shown to continue every year for at least 20 years.

The CVPS windfall investment plan will enable these outcomes to expand to many more Vermonters.

It offers benefits for a wide range of CVPS customers, from low and moderate-income families struggling to fill their oil tanks to affordable housing providers seeking efficiency funding to help make buildings permanently affordable.

Energy contractors will see increased interest in private sector retrofits, while businesses can investigate opportunities for deeper energy efficiency improvements. Such improvements are highly cost-effective, delivering a positive return-on-investment relatively quickly and offering additional benefits such as improvements in health, safety, and comfort.

This plan will also have a positive impact on workforce and economic development around the state. Vermont's energy efficiency initiatives – including weatherization, the Vermont Fuel Efficiency Partnership, and private contractors – are facing serious cuts in funding and incentives, and the resulting loss of jobs. This effort will save jobs, create new jobs, and allow us to maintain our position as the top state in the country for green jobs at the same times it invests ratepayers' dollars for the highest return. A recent federal Department of Labor report hailed Vermont's success in creating green jobs and training workers.

The state's Weatherization Assistance Program providers are part of the Vermont Community Action Partnership, which collectively provides services to low- and moderate-income families throughout Vermont. Each year, more than 60,000 Vermonters receive the help they need to feed, house, and clothe their families, heat and weatherize their homes, start or expand businesses, get job training, build financial assets, develop effective money management skills, nurture and educate their children, and much more.

Community Action Agencies (CAAs) are perhaps best known for their assistance to families and individuals experiencing health - or even life-threatening emergencies, through crisis resolution programs that provide financial assistance, case management, service linkage, and advocacy to households facing lack of food or heat, eviction, foreclosure, illness, and other serious emergencies.

But beyond providing that “safety net,” CAA services also help stabilize their lives, make their homes safe and energy-efficient, take steps to become self-reliant, and enable their children to escape the generational cycle of poverty.

These goals are achieved through such programs as Crisis Fuel Assistance, Housing Stabilization, Food Stamp Outreach, Weatherization, Home Repair, Micro Business Development, Job Training, Asset Building (Matched Savings) Accounts, Tax Preparation Assistance, Thrift Stores, Parenting Support & Education, Head Start, and Child Care. Additional information about CAA programs may be obtained from the websites of the CAA serving your local area.

Steve Geller is the President of the Vermont Community Action Partnership and Executive Director of Southeastern Vermont Community Action (SEVCA), the CAA serving Windham and Windsor counties.

Steve Geller