RGGI funds have been a game-changer for many low-income homes

New state program fills gap in federal weatherization assistance efforts

August 25, 2022 12:02 am

The Ridge Apartments in the Shenandoah Valley, where RGGI funds helped improve 52 units of low-income housing. (Community Housing Partners)

By Chelsea Harnish

As Congress passes historic climate legislation for the first time in decades, Virginia has already been combating climate change via the commonwealth’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a market-based carbon-reduction program.

RGGI auctions provide vital funds for flood resiliency and low-income energy efficiency programs, improving the health and safety of residents across the state. However, Virginia’s progress could evaporate if Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s desire to remove Virginia from RGGI becomes reality.

The Youngkin administration has tried repeatedly to remove Virginia from this multi-state initiative – via executive order and legislation before the General Assembly, as well as budget amendments that would have revoked energy efficiency funds and moved them to the general fund. Now Gov. Youngkin has tasked the State Air Pollution Control Board with approving an emergency regulation to remove Virginia from RGGI, which some legal advocacy groups say is illegal.

Virginia’s first year in RGGI provided nearly $114 million in revenue for low-income energy efficiency programs. This unprecedented funding has allowed weatherization providers and affordable housing developers to provide safe, affordable and energy-efficient homes to low-income families like never before.

From major health and safety repairs on existing housing stock to the construction of affordable, energy-efficient homes, money from RGGI is being used in every region of Virginia — and is creating high-paying jobs that cannot be outsourced.

Along the Eastern Shore, weatherization provider Project:HOMES was able to use RGGI dollars to help the most vulnerable in this community. Several potential clients qualified for assistance from the federally funded Weatherization Assistance Program. But something was standing in the way — hazardous living conditions.

While the federal weatherization program helps provide much-needed energy-efficient upgrades to existing low-income housing, homes that require major repairs for problems such as deteriorated roofs, faulty heating and electrical systems and serious mold issues are disqualified from receiving services. That means weatherization providers have historically had to walk away, or “defer,” houses in such disrepair, leaving those most in need living in unsafe, unhealthy and energy-inefficient housing.

This is where the newly established state Weatherization Deferral Repair (WDR) program comes in. This RGGI-funded program works in tandem with the federal weatherization program to provide funds specifically for health and safety repairs to help our most vulnerable citizens qualify for weatherization services.

On the Eastern Shore, Project:HOMES was able to make extensive health and safety repairs to 12 homes in dire need. The organization hired more than 30 local subcontractors to fix eight roofs, repair five heating and cooling systems and address major mold, electrical and plumbing problems.

Once repairs were made through the WDR program, those homes then received weatherization services, such as LED lighting, weatherstripping, insulation and HVACs through the federal program. Those residents now reap on average 20% savings on their utility bills, in addition to the benefits of living in safer, healthier, more comfortable homes.

There are stories like this across the commonwealth. In Southside Virginia, the Senior Deerfield Apartments in Crewe received $93,195 in repairs — including replacement roofs and new HVAC systems. In Shenandoah County, the funds helped improve 52 units of low-income housing and put 24 subcontractors to work in the process.

RGGI funding has become a game-changer for the most vulnerable in our communities, as well as the nonprofits that weatherize their homes. RGGI programs have allowed weatherization providers to hire in record numbers to help more people in need. And these are local jobs that cannot be outsourced.

While administration officials have suggested that other funding sources could be found to replace RGGI funds, that is a herculean task. In 2021, the RGGI auctions brought in tens of millions of dollars more than every other energy efficiency program in the state – combined.

Virginians can’t afford to have these programs disappear. Gov. Youngkin and members of the air board should embrace, not eliminate, the positive results from the commonwealth’s participation in RGGI.

Chelsea Harnish is executive director of the Virginia Energy Efficiency Council, founded in 2012 as the voice for Virginia’s energy efficiency industry. Contact her at [email protected].

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