I would first like to congratulate the staff, board, and clients of Neighborworks of Western Vermont on 25 years of service in Rutland, Bennington, and Addison Counties. You should all be very proud of what you have accomplished in making homeownership possible – and affordable – for thousands of Vermonters.
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.
I am proud to have been an author of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program, which provided $3.2 billion nationwide to cities, counties, towns, and states, for efficiency and sustainable energy projects. As a former mayor, I know that local governments and organizations across the country have a variety of good ideas about how to save energy, and that even modest amounts of funding can be used to jump-start worthy projects and create jobs. As part of that program, roughly $450 million was set aside for competitive grants, and we were very pleased to see some of that competitive funding come here to Rutland County.
Since last June, when their $4.5 million award was announced, Neighborworks’ Home Energy Assistance (HEAT) Squad has already had a substantial impact: they have reached out directly to homeowners to educate them about energy efficiency; they have put local contractors to work performing nearly 500 energy audits and 250 home energy upgrades. Over the course of this project, we expect 1,000 homes to be retrofitted, and many more homeowners to be contacted and provided energy audits, and information about energy conservation. The average energy savings for each home that is retrofitted through this project is between 36 and 50 percent. That is huge. At a time when we have seen $4 a gallon gasoline, and high heating oil prices, this project will help save families that receive energy efficiency upgrades $1,000 or more per year on their energy bills. Today, we are here to launch a new phase of this project, an innovative town energy challenge, which will engage residents in all 27 communities in Rutland County.
The HEAT Squad Town Energy Competition will reach out to homeowners at a grassroots level, empowering people to make their communities more energy independent. It will build on the hard work already being done by town energy committees, as well local organizations, and businesses. Vermont is unique in that we have now 100 towns that have set-up town energy committees, for exactly these types of efforts, figuring out how to save energy and be more efficient in our communities. So the idea with this Town Energy Competition is, each town can compete for funds based on how many homes participate in this challenge. For every home that is made more efficient under this project and this Town Energy Competition, we not only save money for the homeowner, we generate funds for the communities to weatherize facilities such as schools, libraries, and municipal buildings. This is a true win-win-win, saving families on their energy bills, saving taxpayer dollars by making public buildings more efficient, and creating jobs here in Rutland County in the process. In fact we know this initiative will create many more jobs.
As you may know, Vermont has actually been the leading state in the nation in terms of energy efficiency thanks to Efficiency Vermont. In fact, according to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, if every state in the country saved 1.5 percent of their projected electricity consumption annually for the next ten years, which is less than what Vermont is already achieving today, we could avoid the need for 390 medium-sized coal burning plants, create 220,000 new jobs, and save Americans $170 billion. That would be a huge accomplishment. In other words, we know Vermont is doing a great job on efficiency, but we also know we can do even better, and that is why I am so pleased to help support the Town Energy Competition, and all the other efforts currently being undertaken by the HEAT Squad. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu has already recognized this project as a model for the nation recently, and it is my hope that your work here will be a model for other communities in Vermont, and across our country.