The Menominee-Delta-Schoolcraft Weatherization Program is closing its doors Friday and should reopen soon, on a much smaller scale, after it receives contracts from the state, according to CAA Executive Director William Dubord.
The program has been in operation locally for over 35 years, and during that time has been closed temporarily a few times during short-term funding issues, Dubord said. He noted this closure will be more severe due to both state and federal funding cuts and the end of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding.
The agency knew the program’s ARRA funding — approximately $1 million a year for each of the past three years — was coming to an end, Dubord said. Adding to the severe situation is the state reducing its base program funding by 60 percent for 2012/13.
The program provides long-term solutions to income-eligible people who are having difficulty paying their home heating bills. The agency goes into people’s homes and tests to determine exactly what types of insulation, air sealing and caulking can be done to make the home more energy efficient. The program also replaces furnaces and refrigerators if testing shows it’s needed, said MDSCAA Weatherization Program Director Joe Dehlin. People who go through the program see a 20-30 percent reduction in their utility usage.
The agency’s five-person administrative and technical staff have received layoff notices, and their last day of work will be March 30. Once a new contract is received from the state, some of those workers will be recalled, but that may be only for a few months until funding runs out.
Over the past three years the agency helped reduce utility costs for over 700 eligible homeowners and renters.
“Our Weatherization staff and local contractors deserve much credit for achieving exactly what this program was intended to do: create jobs and provide long-term solutions for eligible people who were having a difficult time making ends meet,” said Dubord. Additionally, much of the installed materials were purchased locally.
Since 2009 the program weatherized 718 homes and apartments, including 584 through ARRA and 134 through its usual Department of Energy funding, which was funneled through the state.
As of now, though, the program is no longer taking applications after it expended all of its funding. It’s not known when more D.O.E. funding will be received for the new fiscal year, which begins April 1. Either way, with the end of ARRA and reduced D.O.E. funding, the program will only be a shadow of what it was over the past three years, Dubord said.
When new funding is received, at best the program will only be able to do 20-50 homes a year throughout its three-county service area.
Over the past three years the agency contracted with seven residential contractors and their crews along with six mechanical contractors and their crews in the three counties. One of those was Robert Peterson Home Building , based out of Wells Township in Delta County .
Peterson, who had worked on his own since 2001, first contracted with CAA in January 2010. In March 2010, he added two workers, a third worker a month later, and in late July 2010 added two more workers. All those workers were needed because of his CAA weatherization work, Peterson said.
“I first heard about the program when I saw and ad in the newspaper that the agency was looking for contractors. I was hoping for both steady work and a steady source of income,” Peterson said.
While doing the weatherization work, Peterson said he often heard positive comments from local residents.
“I ran into several customers after doing the measures, and they said we cut their heating bill in half or better. We received many compliments on the work and appreciation of the help we gave them,” he said.
Peterson, who installed improvements to residences in all three counties, called it “a win-win. It did what it was designed to do. It helped lower energy usage and put people back to work.”
He said he found his employees through Michigan Works. “All of them had been laid off for an extended period of time when I hired them,” he said. Some of his workers had experience before he hired them; others didn’t.
“Many of the people living in the homes were retired or on fixed incomes. We were able to lower their heating costs through insulating and air sealing to help them manage their monthly expenses. Many of the older homes, since the day they were built, hadn’t had anything done to them,” Peterson said.
He said the program offered long-term solutions for many residents.
“Many of the people, due to the cost of their utilities, had a hard time and needed assistance paying their heat and electric bills. I believe that we helped a lot them to the point where they could handle their utility bills with little or no assistance. The upgrade to many of the homes was pretty substantial,” he said.
Since the program ended, Peterson said he has been forced to lay off his five employees, who are now receiving unemployment benefits.
Deborah Nordquist, Escanaba, had her home weatherized through the program this past summer.
“I’m very happy. It’s a great program,” Nordquist said.
The program added insulation in the home’s attic and basement, provided a new furnace and compact florescent light bulbs. The home was built in 1925, and the Nordquists have owned it since 1980
“It’s warmer, it’s very warm, and I noticed that the light bill went down,” she said.