Weatherization deal waits on vendors
PITTSFIELD -- Local utility companies are looking to broker a deal with Greylock Federal Credit Union that would give people incentives to embark on home weatherization projects.
MountainOne offers zero-interest loans to residents of Northern Berkshire, but the rest of Berkshire County currently has no such option.
"The biggest issue right now is we have no local vendors," said Robert Gyurjan, a lead analyst with Berkshire Gas Co. "We’re meeting with Greylock Federal Credit Union and hopefully we can get them to join a heat loan program as a vendor. If they like our proposal and we can move forward, we’ll be well covered in Berkshire County."
"It’s important step," Jane Winn, of Berkshire Environ-
mental Action Team, said. "It was shocking to everyone I talked to that they couldn’t [get these loans] locally."
In Pittsfield, where the county’s second-oldest housing stock is found, weatherization and other energy efficiency projects can make a big difference, according to city Parks and Open Space Manager James McGrath.
McGrath said the city’s done well making municipal buildings more energy efficient, but the housing stock needs work.
In particular, Pittsfield homeowners whose family income hits in the $60,000 to $100,000 range don’t qualify for low-income weatherization incentives and often believe their homes are efficient enough.
"Those are the ones with the single-family homes, fixer-uppers, thinking they’re already there when they’re really not quite there yet," said Lauren Gaherty, a senior planner with Berkshire Regional Planning Commission. "Every house can do better."
"Major segments of the population, like renters and moderate income folks, face barriers doing efficiency work in their homes, even if they want to," said Alex Papali, an organizer with the Green Justice Campaign.
At a recent meeting hosted by BRPC, which included state clean energy officials, labor officials from Boston who implement energy-saving projects statewide and local conservationists, participants put their heads together on how better to save in the Berkshires.
The potential agreement with Greylock Federal ranked high on the list of ideas. Negotiating the deal would be Berkshire Gas and Western Massachusetts Electric Co., local utilities who administer state energy savings initiatives.
The group also stressed the need to spread the word about the free energy audits and other programs offered by MassSave, a statewide initiative designed to provide a wide range of services, incentives, trainings and information promoting energy efficiency.
Gaherty suggested teach-ins hosted by major county employers like Crane, Berkshire Medical Center, local school districts and Berkshire Life.
Gyurjan said despite efforts by the two utilities companies, local contractors prefer larger projects and have "no interest" in residential weatherization projects.
Jeremy Shenk, deputy director of Boston’s Community Labor United (CLU), said there were a variety of state programs designed to help local initiatives succeed. He cited Efficient Neighborhoods Plus, part of a three-year, $2.25 billion statewide program administered by utility companies.
People like Shenk and Papali are working to ensure the program’s benefits are distributed evenly among the population. The goal, Shenk said, is "to provide more opportunities across the state for working class communities to access programs, for community groups to do outreach, for cities to take more of a role in helping to deliver programs."
"The idea is, local folks know how to deliver programs to their communities," Shenk said. "We want these programs to work. We pay for them, so let’s make sure they’re reaching everyone."
CLU efforts, if fully implemented, could over the next three years reduce greenhouse gas output by 84,000 tons, weatherize more than 2,000 homes, save state households $59 million, net weatherization workers $42.8 million in wages, create $24.7 million in state and federal revenue and save $10.7 million in worker and homeowner health care costs, officials said.
McGrath said Pittsfield would step up.
"We know these neighborhoods; we know the needs and we stand ready to assist," he said. "We want to provide leadership in energy efficiency in this community."
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