The U.S. Department of Energy announced Thursday it will distribute nearly $120 million across the nation to bolster the Weatherization Assistance Program, with $7 million going to agencies in Maine.
The additional funding, made available under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, comes on the heels of a milestone for the program: More than 31,600 homes nationwide received weatherization upgrades in June alone.
“The funding announced today builds on the department’s existing investments in energy efficiency to continue to expand and drive innovations in the weatherization program,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement.
The $7 million earmarked for Maine will be divided among six Maine agencies from Presque Isle to South Paris. According to officials at the Department of Energy, the funds will be available by the end of September. The awards will enable the agencies to install energy-efficient equipment such as tankless hot water systems and small-scale wind turbines with the aim of reducing homeowners’ energy bills.
The Maine agencies are:
• Aroostook County Action Program in Presque Isle.
• Penquis Community Action Program in Bangor.
• Waldo Community Action Partners in Belfast.
• Kennebec Valley Community Action Program in Waterville.
• Western Maine Community Action in East Wilton.
• Community Concepts Inc. in South Paris.
With 3,230 homes weatherized between January 2009 and June 2010, Maine’s total is by no means the highest in the nation. New York tops the chart with 22,718 during the same period. Cathy Zoi, the department’s assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy, said Maine’s commitment to pursing alternative routes to energy independence has made the state a standout despite the numbers.
“Maine has been a leader in weatherization and clean energy for some time,” Zoi said.
In a telephone press conference Thursday, Gov. John Baldacci lauded the efforts of the participating companies from Maine, a state with a housing market he said is uniquely suited to the aims of the program.
“Maine has some of the oldest housing in the country,” Baldacci said, adding that the state is also home to some of the nation’s “harshest winters.”
Aside from saving homeowners money, the program aims to support local businesses during the current financial crisis. Zoi said that 13,000 jobs were created in the U.S. as a result of the program last quarter, a number she expects to rise with this most recent funding increase.
During the telephone press conference, Gene Brady, executive director of the Commission on Economic Opportunity of Luzerne County in Pennsylvania, offered a first-hand account of the benefits of the Weatherization Assistance Program. He said the program’s funds have permitted his work force to grow in the midst of eco-nomic insecurity in Pennsylvania.
“Our unemployment is over 10 percent,” Brady said, but the commission has “been able to hire 22 people” as a result of increased demand for his services.
According to Chu, Brady’s business is one of many in the country experiencing a boost as a result of the weatherization program.
“The weatherization program under the Recovery Act is successfully creating jobs in local communities, saving money for families and reducing carbon pollution across the country,” Chu said.