Energy efficiency program for low-income NH families to get a boost
By Dennis Labbe
Director, NHLA Energy and Utility Justice Project
Making it through a New Hampshire winter takes guts, a good pair of boots, and - if you want to keep a lid on how much it costs to heat and power your home - modern appliances, windows and insulation.
But new windows, better insulation, and other energy-efficient upgrades are often far out of reach for low-income families who struggle to pay the utility bills each month.
Good news: New Hampshire is expanding resources for low-income families looking to improve their homes and save on their energy bills.
In August, the state Public Utilities Commission approved a settlement agreement establishing an Energy Efficiency Resource Standard in New Hampshire. This policy requires all electric and natural gas utilities in New Hampshire to increase investments in energy efficiency.
New Hampshire Legal Assistance represents The Way Home in these negotiations, and advocates on behalf of low-income New Hampshire residents, ensuring that they are not left out of the conversation about energy efficiency and improvements.
As part of the agreement, the commission approved increasing the portion of that funding directed to energy efficiency improvements for low-income residents.
For the next four years starting in 2017, at least 17 percent of all statewide energy efficiency funding will be dedicated to providing free home weatherization and other energy efficiency improvements for households earning 200 percent or less of the federal poverty level. This increase will yield an additional estimated $1.3 million in 2017 alone for low-income families looking to weatherize their homes for increased energy efficiency.
The program is dedicated to very low-income New Hampshire residents; 200 percent of the federal poverty limit means an income of about $48,000 a year for a family of four. About 22 percent of New Hampshire households are considered low-income by this standard.
Home energy efficiency improvements not only help low-income families save substantial money on their utility and heating bills each month, but also provide long-term benefits such as increased comfort, health and safety. And studies show families who live in more comfortable homes have increased work productivity, school attendance, and reduced health care costs.
Increasing energy efficiency also provides benefits for the entire community: less wear-and-tear on the energy grid, less need to build new power plants, and less need to rely on the higher-cost power plants that keep the system running on hot summer days and chilly winter nights. And, the work improving energy efficiency is usually done by local businesses employing skilled New Hampshire workers.
A conservative estimate of the total number of low-income households that will now be able to participate in the program over the next four years is 6,000, double the estimated 3,000 who would have been able to participate under the old funding formula.
For a list of Community Action Agencies where you can learn if your family is eligible for Home Energy Assistance, visit https://www.puc.nh.gov/consumer/communityactionagencies.htm
We’re grateful for the support of the other settling parties to the New Hampshire Energy Efficiency Resource Standard: Eversource Energy; Unitil Energy Systems; Liberty Utilities Corp.; New Hampshire Electric Cooperative; the Staff of the NH Public Utilities Commission; Belknap-Merrimack Community Action Agency; Southern New Hampshire Services; Conservation Law Foundation NH; The Jordan Institute; NH Sustainable Energy Association; Acadia Center; TRC Energy Services; Representative Robert Backus, pro se; New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning; New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services; NH Community Development Finance Authority; Northeast Clean Energy Council; and the Office of the Consumer Advocate.