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Austin Energy completes federal weatherization program; Utility weatherizes 77 percent more homes than original goal

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Austin Energy has completed one of its largest and fastest turnaround energy-efficiency projects in its history by weatherizing 1,886 homes in a federally funded program – weatherizing 77 percent more homes for people living in poverty or with low-incomes than its original goal of 1,064 homes.

Austin Energy was the only electric utility in the country awarded federal funds on behalf of a city through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to weatherize homes to help residents reduce their energy bills and create green energy jobs to stimulate the economy during the downturn.

Although Austin Energy had administered a local free weatherization program for almost 30 years, its federal weatherization program similar to other programs in Texas and throughout the country started slowly due to complexity of the requirements attached to the federal stimulus dollars.

However, while many agencies and organizations in Texas and the nation receiving the federal money forfeited funding due to poor performance or their inability to meet federal requirements, Austin Energy excelled. Because of its outstanding performance, Austin Energy received additional federal funding on three separate occasions bringing its total award to $9.2 million – an almost 60 percent increase over the original award. And, although the federal funding allowed a maximum of 5 percent to be spent on administrative costs, Austin Energy spent just 2.8 percent on administration.

“Our project team took on this project based on a vision of growing green jobs and the local economy while providing vital energy efficiency services to customers facing crippling energy bills,” said Karl R. Rábago, vice president of distributed energy services for Austin Energy. “All of us on the team are extremely proud to have led this project to a successful conclusion.”

Each home in the program received an average of $4,359 in free improvements, including as-needed replacement of air conditioning and heating systems, attic insulation, duct repair/replacement, air sealing work and energy-related minor repairs to the home. On average, each of the homes will save about $1,200 annually in energy costs due to the improvements.

The program targeted participants at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $44,000 for a family of four. Once that requirement was met, priority for participation was given to households with children under the age of 6; households with residents more than 60 years old; households with residents with disabilities; households that spent more than 11 percent of their income on energy; and households with energy use costs of over $1,000 a year.

Austin Energy also weatherized the homes of special needs populations including two apartment complexes with 27 residents suffering from AIDS and a 22-unit shelter for battered women. A 46-unit housing facility for veterans in transition from homelessness and a 103-unit housing center for low-income senior citizens also were weatherized.

Six contractor companies employing about 60 employees also benefitted from the program. Two of the six prime contractors were minority- or women-owned business enterprises. Nine additional companies were contracted to conduct initial home assessments and final inspections, providing jobs for at least three employees per company. The additional increments of funding provided work for contractors and the assessment companies over the entire two-year span of the program.

Austin, Texas