Slicing Home Energy Bills: A Model Program

Vermont Bernie Buzz

Martha Heitkamp, 72, is looking forward to spending nearly $800 less on heating oil this winter, thanks to energy efficiency improvements to her Rutland County home. The money-saving improvements are possible through an innovative, energy-saving program, which Sen. Bernie Sanders helped fund. The program is quickly becoming a national model. 

Martha and her husband, Peter, plan to use the savings to pay the bills once she retires from helping run a daycare. “What really surprised me was that I could feel the difference the next day,” she said.

Weatherizing“Our house is old and it hasn’t had a lot of really good maintenance over the years,” Martha said. The foam insulation sprayed along the home’s foundation, which was just one of the energy-saving improvements, “really made a remarkable difference in the comfort in this house,” she said. “It really, really cut down on the floor draft.”

Last summer, Sanders helped secure $4.5 million for NeighborWorks of Western Vermont’s Home Efficiency Assistance Team. Those funds are available through the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program, which the senator helped author.

“One thing we know is that for many low- and moderate-income families, the high and increasing cost of energy poses a serious challenge – and threatens their ability to find, and keep, housing that is affordable.  That is why the work that Neighborworks is doing, supporting homeowners in making their homes energy efficient and lowering their energy bills, is very, very important. As we do that work to increase energy efficiency, we also create jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Sanders said.

Last Friday, Sanders joined Rutland-area community leaders at the launch of a countywide competition to encourage energy efficiency. The competition, which is a NeighborWorks initiative funded by the grant from the U.S. Department of Energy offers $10,000 rewards for towns that demonstrate the greatest percentage of home energy improvements and the highest average energy savings per home.

The Town Energy Competition in Rutland Co. is serving as a national model and will allow each town in the county to compete for funds based on how many homes participate. Vermont families will save money, often at least $1,000 a year, through lower energy bills. Schools, libraries, and municipal buildings will be made more efficient through weatherization projects. And local jobs will be created. 

So far, the West Rutland, Vt.-based nonprofit has used the $4.5 million to pay local contractors to perform nearly 500 energy audits,  conduct 250 home energy upgrades, and educate home owners about savings possible through energy efficiency. Once complete, 1,000 homes will be retrofitted in Rutland County, saving each up to 50 percent or more on energy costs. That translates to at least $1,000 in annual energy bill savings per home.

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