Decades ago my friend Dana Meadows wrote: “…imagine the whole world with no one living in dire need. Think how it would feel to be part of a society that had taken on and solved, permanently, the problem of hunger.”1 This can relate to other issues such as addressing climate change, affordable housing; helping students learn marketable job skills through professional certification program, saving energy and money and getting to know your neighbors.
Imagine over the next four years we certify, train and hire one out of twelve students (tenth grade to seniors in college, about 3,000 students in Vermont) to work in teams part-time, 750 hours a year, with a four-year commitment. Each team would insulate fifteen houses a year for a total of sixty houses per team over four years. This results in a grand total of 15,000 houses a year. Each house in Vermont burns an average of 650 gallons of fossil fuel a year and could save about 130 gallons each year!
Each gallon not burned keeps about twenty pounds of carbon out of the atmosphere and saves energy, money and the earth. Then, imagine the thirty-five million people living in New England and New York and the 14 million houses that they live in. Vermonters spend about a billion dollars a year2 on fossil fuels for heating. Imagine filling your gas tank on your car with 20% spilled on the ground. Crazy, right? But that is what we are doing with our buildings today!
Is this idea for an initiative perfect? Nope.
Is it realistic, affordable and proven? Yes. Weatherization brings a return of $1.83 for every $1 spent and a combined return of $2.69 including non-energy related benefits.3
Basic weatherization is proven. Instead of walking around in your house with an extra sweater or a hat, it’s “hat, slippers and a scarf” for your house: cellulose in attics, air-sealing, insulating band joists.
I hear people say “we don’t have the workforce to do 70,000 houses in the next four years.” The answer is training the workforce through a professional certification program.
The technical schools can certify and professionally train students with programs approved by the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) or Building Performance Institute (BPI)4 or similar certificate of proficiency5. After four years of being paid to help their neighbors, offer students certification and opportunities for additional career paths in sustainable building performance, HVAC, windows and doors, building construction, wiring, plumbing, and welding.
Where does the money come from?
Luckily, there is a proven system called Pay as You Save (PAYS) 6 in which every renter and homeowner can participate without needing a loan or taking on debt. To learn more watch “How your electric utility can improve your home’s energy efficiency” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JxoApQkEhyA&feature=youtu.be
PAYS works because every month participants are saving money and energy and using some of those savings to pay for the work that was done. PAYS is a functional program that has been adopted in eight states and 18 utility districts. Rural, low-income communities have tripled weatherization rates using PAYS and 100% of low-income multi-family units use PAYS.
Two steps to reduce icicles and save the planet:
Step 1: Contact your utility and ask them to open a docket in front of the PUC to adopt a PAYS tariff 7 which would set up a program that could apply to all utilities and ensure quality control. PAYS is recommended on page 47 of Vermont’s report, “To the Vermont State Legislature Act 62– Preliminary Report on All-Fuels Energy Efficiency” 8 which states we need $350 million to weatherize 50,000 of Vermont’s 250,000 homes. No legislation is needed. The money comes from wasting less energy. No new taxes!
Step 2: Contact the technical schools and ask for programs for certification and training in weatherization. Vermont is already working to develop a certificate program to address climate change (see page 22 in this issue).
Lori Barg is a builder, geologist and hydroelectric developer. Her new patent for a modular, environmentally- friendly hydroelectric system could power some of the 80,000 existing unpowered dams in the U.S. (The U.S. has only ~2,000 hydroelectric sites, about the same as tiny Sweden).
6 https://www.law.berkeley.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Low-Income-High-Efficiency-June-2019.pdf and https://www.veic.org/documents/default-source/resources/reports/energy_efficiency_financing_report-merrian_fuller_2008.pdf