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$9 Billion for Home Energy Upgrades—But Can We Invest It Wisely?

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) will pay up to $14,000 upfront for a low- or moderate-income family to efficiently electrify and weatherize their home, with lower but still generous rebates available to all households. But there are formidable obstacles standing in the way of the utilities, nonprofits, local governments, and other entities that want to ensure this opportunity benefits large numbers of low- and moderate-income households. These include:

  • Many apartments and single-family homes in disadvantaged communities will require major electrical upgrades and other repairs before it becomes feasible to install heat pump HVAC systems, heat pump water heaters, electric stoves, and heat pump clothes dryers—the efficient equipment the IRA subsidizes.
  • Many utilities—especially rural co-ops and small munis—have no experience establishing and running an electrification program.
  • In many regions of the United States, there are few if any HVAC or plumbing contractors proficient in or experienced with heat pump technologies.

BEL’s Weatherization/Electrification (W/E) Together initiative was established to tackle these obstacles and to help utilities and their partners better integrate weatherization and electrification programs. Doing both together is cost effective and delivers full benefits to the residents, but due to program requirements, the capabilities of utilities and their partners, and other issues, the two approaches are generally not coordinated.

To move the needle on this issue and help lay the groundwork for the IRA energy rebates to widely benefit low-income people, BEL is sponsoring W/E demo projects with Anza Electric Co-operative in the high desert of the Sierra Nevada region and Flint Energies in Georgia. Both co-ops have many low- and moderate-income member-consumers who could benefit from W/E. And like many co-ops across the country, neither has recent experience administering an in-home electrification program.

To make sure the demo projects are robust learning experiences relevant to other utilities that will face similar challenges, BEL and our co-op partners chose challenging homes to weatherize and electrify. One example: a 40-year-old manufactured home with structural issues and substandard wiring.

While the IRA includes rebates for electrical upgrades to a home like this, there’s still a steep learning curve ahead for our co-ops and their partners (such as community action programs). BEL will widely disseminate the lessons learned as these projects proceed.

We’ve also convened a W/E advisory group that includes utilities and agencies with experience doing W/E, as well as vendors, consultants, and other stakeholders. The group meets monthly online to share best practices and to advise these two co-ops.

This kind of sharing of expertise and actual field work by utilities that are new to W/E are vital to making the IRA’s home energy upgrades work for low-income families. Without this kind of work, the energy benefits of the IRA will mostly flow to higher-income families whose homes and finances are more equipped to accomplish W/E upgrades and claim the rebates.

Follow BEL’s newsletters, our W/E website, and LinkedIn feed for more updates on W/E.