Rebate programs stimulate economy

Posted: Monday, November 16, 2009

ANCHORAGE - A statewide weatherization program with the potential of reducing energy costs in thousands of Alaskan residences will improve some 1,740 homes in 2009 alone, and Alaska Housing Finance Corp. expects to more than quadruple that number by 2011. The goal is to weatherize 4,000 homes in 2010 and 7,500 homes in 2011, said Bryan Butcher, public affairs director for the state agency, whose mission is to provide Alaskans with quality affordable housing.

"We can show there are average savings of 25 percent on energy right now, and we are hoping it goes up," Butcher said.

Prior to 2008, an average of 600 homes benefited from the weatherization program on an annual basis, he said.

The big boost came in 2008, when the Legislature, flush with oil tax dollars, added $200 million to the weatherization pot, plus $160 million for home energy rebates, he said.

Until 2008, the programs were funded with an average of $2 million in federal funds, plus $5 million to $6 million in receipts from Alaska Housing Finance Corp. programs, Butcher said.

Millions more allocated to boost both programs over a five-year period allowed Alaska Housing Finance Corp. to extend the program to many more Alaskans, he said.

Last year money was spent in 56 communities. In 2009, that rose to 90 communities. In 2010, Alaska Housing Finance Corp. expected weatherization efforts to affect more than 100 communities, he said. An estimated 2,000 direct jobs were created.

The funding, and resulting employment, could potentially grow even more.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, and Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, have recommended in the Senate Energy Committee that the upcoming Legislature add another $150 million to the program for weatherization and $50 million for energy rebates, he said.

The recommendations are included in the committee's draft state energy policy, Wielechowski said.

Wielechowski quoted federal U.S. Department of Energy figures showing that for every dollar spent on weatherization, $1.85 is saved. The average savings from the energy program is $526 per year per household, Wielechowski said.

"It's good at so many levels," he said. "It is taking money we are making primarily from saleable oil and putting it back into energy relief. It really has a tremendous affect all over Alaska." The weatherization program is open to all Alaskans whose incomes are at 100 percent under the median income for their area. Charts specifying income limits for families of varied sizes are available at the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. Web site.

The bulk of energy improvements involve increased insulation in roofs and walls, caulking drafty areas, and the replacement of windows and doors, Butcher said.

In some cases, the program will also finance replacement of boilers and furnaces.

The work is done through weatherization contractors, such as regional housing authorities, the municipality of Anchorage and the Rural Alaska Community Action Program, among others.

Improvement costs average $11,000 for homes in communities on the road system or where year-round barge deliveries are available. That compares with an average of $30,000 in remote areas.

The home energy rebate program is open to all Alaskans regardless of income, but participation requires an energy audit by a home energy rater authorized to evaluate homes before and after improvements.

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