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      Rothman: Thousands of low-income households now warmer, more energy efficient

      Posted on December 16, 2011 at 7:50 AM

      By Mike Rothman, Commissioner
      Minnesota Department of Commerce
      As winter settles over Minnesota, more than 18,200 low-income households across our state are a little warmer, and a lot more energy efficient. That’s thanks to an effective partnership between the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources (DER), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and our local partners across Minnesota.
      More than $132 million in federal funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) gave Minnesota’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) a big boost in 2009. Working together, we used that limited one-time funding to produce permanent energy savings for thousands of senior citizens (7,490), disabled Minnesotans (5,770), and low-income families with children (22,200).
      Initially, Minnesota set a goal of weatherizing 17,000 low-income households by March 2012. We were one of the first states in the nation to meet our goal; in fact exceeding that goal several months ago. Now, with $7 million and less than 4 months left, the State of Minnesota is well its way to serving a total of 19,000 to 20,000 households by this spring, stretching every dollar to provide the maximum benefit to Minnesota families, our environment, and our economy.
      Yesterday, Governor Mark Dayton and U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu highlighted the nation-leading work Minnesota has been doing to make money- and energy-saving investments in the homes and lives of low-income families. Governor Dayton pointed out in particular how important this program has been at a time when Minnesota families are struggling – not only to pay their utility bills, but to find jobs in a difficult economy.
      Since 2009, weatherization work such as exterior wall and attic insulation, air sealing, and repairs or replacement of home heating systems has produced $8 million in permanent, ongoing savings for Minnesota families enrolled in the program, decreasing each home’s annual utility bill by an average of $400 per year. At a time when every dollar makes a difference, those savings are needed now more than ever.
      Take for instance Gretchen and Louis Wilson of Minneapolis. Gretchen is a veteran on disability. She and her husband Louis are on a fixed income and were having trouble paying their utility bill. Through Minnesota’s weatherization program, the Wilsons received a new, high-efficiency furnace and significant energy upgrades to their 1950s home. Those efficiency improvements helped the Wilsons save $232 on their last utility bill.
      In Gretchen’s words, “We couldn’t believe it when we saw our bill. We have been toasty warm this winter – no drafts, no icy windows. What a great program. We could never have afforded the work that was done.”
      But the program isn’t only helping those who qualify for assistance; it is helping get Minnesotans back to work. In fact, over the last two years the program has helped support 500 good-paying jobs. A University of Minnesota Extension study found that for every direct job funded by the program, an additional ¾ of a job was created in the private sector in Minnesota.
      The Extension study also concluded that each dollar spent on weatherization generated an additional $1.09, on average, of economic activity in Minnesota. And for every dollar earned by a weatherization worker, an additional 86 cents was earned by workers in other state industries.
      Bill Hane of Walker, Minnesota knows firsthand the impact this program has had on Minnesota’s economy. Bill owns a small construction business. In 2008, his wife learned she had breast cancer just after she lost her health insurance. Around that time, construction projects started to slow down. The recession was hard on Bill’s family, and hard on his business.
      Recently, Bill applied to be a weatherization contractor. With new work created by ARRA dollars, he has been able to re-hire two of his former employees, and may hire another this year. Bill told Commerce staff, “In my experience, the weatherization stimulus dollars are doing a lot of good for a lot of people in Minnesota.”
      We know Bill is right. That’s why the Minnesota Department of Commerce, the U.S. Department of Energy, and our local partners will continue working together over the next several months, and in the future, to continue providing this importance assistance to those families who need it most. We encourage Minnesotans who need assistance to contact the Department of Commerce or visit our website to find out if you are eligible for participation in the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP).