Good news from EPA's Clean Power Plan

When President Obama released the final Clean Power Plan today, it included a number of changes from the proposal that EPA put forth in the federal register in 2014. One of those changes was the inclusion of a requirement that states provide low-income community efficiency and clean energy programming and ensure  "meaningful engagement" of low-income communities during the development of the plan.  Both very welcome requirements were at the center of the recommendations filed with EPA by NCAF, National Consumer Law Center and Ohio Partners for Affordable Energy. Our allies at Consumers Union, WE ACT and Sierra Club included recommendations mirroring ours in their testimonies. 

What does this plan mean for the Community Action and Weatherization networks and our advocacy partners?  It means there is an opportunity for your state's strategy to include high-impact clean energy and efficiency programs for your communities as well as bill protections for vulnerable consumers. This requirement also allows for new connections between our network and the state Clean Air Regulatory agencies. The rule inherently includes the programs and policies in which our network are experts, and energizes connections between Community Action and environmental justice groups. 

State plans are due September 6, 2016. NCAF will be working with our partners to provide you with resources that explain the process and the key elements of the plan. The EPA has not provided details of the ways states must demonstrate genuine participation, and we expect to offer a lot of ideas to them, especially about state support for the costs of engaging in the intense plan development process. 

Excerpt of the EPA summary of the Final Rule:
"...To ensure opportunities for communities - particularly low-income communities, minority communities and tribal communities - to continue to participate in decision making, EPA is requiring that states demonstrate how they are actively engaging with communities as part of their public participation process in the formulation of state plans.
The requirement for meaningful engagement within state plans will provide an avenue for all communities to both hear from the state about strategies that might work best to tackle climate pollution, and to provide input on where possible impacts to low-income communities, minority communities, and tribal communities could occur along with strategies to mitigate those impacts."

Excerpt of part 3 of NCAF-NCLC-OPAE comment to EPA
"[The final rule must require] A Demonstration That the State Has Conducted An Inclusive Planning Process During CPP Development
States must demonstrate that they have engaged representatives of low-income energy consumers and disadvantaged communities at all periods and levels of plan development. EPA should accept as evidence of a sound process the following three elements, and provide a far more deliberate review and analysis of plans that were not developed under such a process:
a. The legitimacy, expertise and constituencies of the participating groups;
b. The state resources provided for the participation of disadvantaged groups - such as intervener funding at state commissions, and grants and/or in kind support for planning, analysis and participation; and,
c. Inclusive rules for participation in planning at each phase of plan development."



Senate Energy Bill with WAP Reauthorization Title Reported out of Committee

This afternoon, the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee completed work on the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 and sent the comprehensive Bill to the full Senate. We do not expect final Senate action before the logjam of funding bills and essential long term reauthorizations are addressed by Congress, either late this year or even early next year.

The Bill's Weatherization title contains a welcome 5-year reauthorization at $350,000,000 yearly. It also includes two provisions that give us concern. We expect to be able to make significant improvements before final passage. They are:

  • The Bill requires the Energy Department to use at least 2% of the appropriation [and more when appropriations exceed $255 million] to fund competitive grants to multi-state affordable housing [or multi-state weatherization] non-profits to demonstrate leveraging with volunteers, donations and funding partners, and
  • Sets 'standards' for WAP workers that refer to out-of-date programs and that are lower than the standard work specifications now in use.

NCAF has defined three levels of outcomes that would advance the Weatherization Program further than would these provisions:

In the best case - at the point in 2016 when two comprehensive energy bills have been reconciled by a House-Senate Conference Committee into a final package - the final Bill will contain the same line re-authorizing the program and will also contain a top to bottom updating of the WAP. The updating provisions will follow along the lines our network agrees on after reviewing the product of NCAF's consultations with you. [Expect a comprehensive package in six or seven weeks.]  

Second best is enactment of only the line reauthorizing the program at $350 million. A subsequent Bill can make programmatic changes without facing the challenges and delays that confront any legislation with large sums authorized.

Our third choice is that the grants described in the Senate Bill are something the Secretary may do, but is not mandated and no sums are authorized unless the program reaches $230 million, the pre-ARRA level.



DOE Releases Summary Outcomes of the Weatherization Innovation Grants

In response to a congressional inquiry, the Department of Energy (DOE) released interesting data about sixteen of the 2010-2013 DOE Weatherization Innovative Pilot Projects. The projects totaled $30 million, and were categorized in four areas of innovation:

1.     Alternate financing approaches;
2.     Green and healthy home initiatives;
3.     New technologies and techniques; and,
4.     Workforce development and volunteer labor projects.

The Commission on Economic Opportunity (CEO), in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, directed an initiative in partnership with PPL (the Pennsylvania-based electric utility) that tested new in-home technologies. The pilot met its performance targets under budget and leveraged even more funding than it had planned. In fact, this project was the only one that met both its production goal and its leveraging goal at or under budget.

Other successful projects of note include: New Hampshire Community Loan Fund, which focused on new mobile home upgrades and installation by six CAAs, and Youth Build USA and People Working Cooperatively, Ohio, both of which tested volunteer labor initiatives.

Some pilots fell short of both production and leveraging goals, and were therefore unable to spend all their funding. Habitat for Humanity International weatherized fewer than 44 percent of the planned homes and returned nearly half the funds awarded. Its planned leveraging through donations and volunteer labor fell 68 percent short of goal. They spent an average of $9,281.00 per home weatherized.

Four out of six projects that were testing creative WAP financing returned all or most of their funds. Stewards of Affordable Housing, based in the District of Columbia, struggled with multi-family housing projects, as did the City of Danville, Virginia. Furthermore, after failed attempts at loan projects involving multiple new statewide partners, Utah and Washington state Weatherization offices returned all of their funding. In all, more than a third of the funding allocated to innovations was returned unspent.

Creating new implementation strategies based on the innovative pilots will not be possible until a more detailed report is released. DOE officials have assured us this information will be released with national evaluations of both the pre-ARRA and the ARRA programs. Based on our conversations, we believe DOE is considering an early August date to make those materials public.

The Weatherization Program needs refreshing. We know that there are policy, funding and technology options that were unimaginable in 1979.We are eager to have access to evidenced-based findings that will counter badly designed analyses. But more importantly, we are eager to let this evidence serve as a foundation for proposing a next-gen WAP to Congress.