Record high prices for home heating fuel and utilities are putting a squeeze on family budgets throughout Alaska. People aren't too happy about the situation, and many are looking for help.
Gov. Sarah Palin and state legislators are evaluating additional ways to provide that help, both for the immediate and the long terms.
They already took a crucial step earlier this year by approving $200 million for the state's Weatherization Program and $100 million for the Energy Rebate Program. Both programs are administered by Alaska Housing Finance Corporation. The money is being allocated on a regional basis in order to give all Alaskans a fair opportunity to participate in one program or the other.
Over the next few years as more people take advantage of these programs, Alaska families will see significant benefits from the improved energy efficiency of their homes.
Investing in energy-improvement modifications can shave about 20 percent, or greater, off monthly fuel bills. We've heard reports from some families who saved more than 50 percent. These are monthly savings, year after year, for 10 to 20 years or more. The total benefit can be substantial.
Furthermore, making one's home more energy efficient improves quality of living by increasing the comfort and safety of family members.
And if these facts aren't enough to persuade you, keep in mind that right now Alaskans have the opportunity to receive assistance from the state and Alaska Housing Finance Corporation to pay for weatherization work.
There are two different programs. The Weatherization Program is available to families whose earnings are at 100 percent of median income or less. Median income levels are computed by the federal government and vary within the state. You'll find a complete listing by region and family size on AHFC's Web site: www.ahfc.state.ak.us/energy.
If you believe you may meet the income limit, contact your region's weatherization service provider (list also available on AHFC Web site). The service provider will verify your eligibility, evaluate the energy efficiency needs of your residence and do the energy improvements. All weatherization services are free.
The second program, the Home Energy Rebate, is restricted to owner-occupied homes. There is no family income limit. The program provides up to $10,000 in rebates to homeowners who make specifically recommended modifications to their homes that improve energy efficiency.
The first step to participate is to schedule a certified energy rater to do an "as-is" energy efficiency rating of your home. AHFC will reimburse up to $325 of the cost of the rating.
It might take a few months to schedule because there are only a limited number of certified energy raters in the state. AHFC is training more this summer, but the new raters are not on the job yet. We're asking the public to be patient.
When a rating is completed, it will include a report and a list of improvement modification options that would increase a home's energy efficiency. The owner has the option to do the recommended work, hire a contractor, or choose not to participate in the rebate program.
Remember, detailed information about the Weatherization and Energy Rebate Programs is located on AHFC's Web page: www.ahfc.state.ak.us/energy. Everything to know about qualifying for either program, plus the forms that are needed to fill out, are available on the site.
One final thought to consider: It's a safe bet that your family, like most others, would welcome saving a couple thousand dollars each year by improving the energy efficiency of your home.
Think what would happen if in addition to your family, all your neighbors did the same and used less fuel as a result. What if the majority of the state's homes did this, too?
Not only would the combined savings total hundreds of millions of dollars, but as a state we would be consuming far less non-renewable energy resources than we do today.
And if the rest of the nation took note and followed our lead?
Dan Fauske is CEO and executive director of Alaska Housing Finance Corporation.