Cold weather isn’t cheap. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, consumers in Alaska pay upwards of $8,000 per person per year in energy costs, in comparison to the national average of less than $2,000. It’s impossible not to notice this past month’s drop in temperatures in our utility bills. The colder it gets, the more we pay.
Weatherization — replacing windows, sealing doors, installing insulation, upgrading ventilation systems, etc. — makes a difference. Improperly weatherized homes can’t keep the cold air out and the warm air in, resulting in wasted energy and higher utility costs.
Heating our homes takes a toll not only on our wallets, but also on our planet. The more energy we expend to keep our homes warm, particularly when homes aren’t properly updated to prevent heat escaping and cold drafts entering, the larger our carbon footprint. Our climate cannot sustain the added burden of our energy consumption. According to the Anchorage Energy Landscape and Opportunities Analysis, energy efficiency measures are the easiest and most cost-effective way to reduce energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions.
The state of Alaska previously provided grant funding for the purpose of weatherizing low-income housing. According to Renewable Energy Alaska Project, from 2008-2016, Alaska Housing Finance Corporation’s weatherization and rebate programs retrofitted over 50,000 households in the state, saving them an average of 30% annually on energy bills as well as creating 2,500 jobs. REAP has identified 100,000 additional homes in the state that could still benefit from weatherization. State funding for the weatherization program, however, has dried up. Lower-income Alaskan residents have been left without options to lighten this burden. Their inefficient housing drives up their utility bills while also contributing to the state’s significant energy consumption.
Last spring, Gov. Mike Dunleavy introduced SB 123 and HB 170 which, if passed, would create a green bank in the state of Alaska. Simply put, green banks provide loans to develop sustainable energy projects, which could include home weatherization. The legislation has already moved through several committees, and on the House side, there are now a handful of valuable amendments. These amendments would diversify the advisory committee overseeing the selection of “sustainable energy development” projects, ensure that at least 35% of the program benefits go toward rural communities, and add legislative oversight to the operation of the green bank.
The availability of loans for sustainable energy projects may provide a valuable push throughout the state. For those Alaskans struggling to make monthly bill payments, however, the burden of an additional loan payment may not be feasible. To significantly reduce our energy consumption, the process of financing these projects must be accessible to the individual Alaska resident. Drawing from weatherization funds in the recently passed federal infrastructure bill has the potential to augment this green bank bill.
Last week, we hosted a community meeting with Rep. Andy Josephson and Sen. Bill Wielechowski. Neighbors spoke of the burdensome costs of heating their homes during the winter, and the potential for energy efficiency upgrades, particularly in lower-income housing. Both legislators committed to supporting action to alleviate this pain in our communities.
As HB 170 and SB 123 progress through the Legislature this session, we hope to see additional amendments made to improve them. We look forward to working toward ensuring that sufficient weatherization funding is available for all Anchorage residents, especially for low-income families and neighborhoods.
Lizzie Newell attends St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. Kathleen Lucich attends Anchorage Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. Both are members of AFACT, Anchorage Faith and Action Congregations Together.
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