The high cost of lowering energy bills can become more affordable with a Massachusetts program designed to help insulate buildings or houses, and may help pay for that heat pump.
The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission has $75,000 to distribute over the next year to six towns in the Berkshires to help defray such costs.
The Mass Save Community First Partnership program is offered by local Mass Save sponsors that include Berkshire Gas and National Grid. It sends money to community organizations like the BRPC “to build and execute outreach to those who need it most,” according to Mass Save. “Often, those living in Environmental Justice communities carry a disproportionate share of the energy burden.”
Even a free upgrade is possible, as Sherdyl Fernandez-Aubert, energy and environmental planner with the BRPC, told The Eagle.
“There’s an energy assessment for a home or business,” he said, “then you take the recommendations provided in the assessment, and you can get weatherization installation upgrades that are either free for the person getting the work done, or they pay 25 percent of the cost.”
Adams, Great Barrington, Lanesborough, Lee, North Adams and Williamstown are among nine new partners across the state selected for the program in 2023 and 2024 (Pittsfield is part of a similar but separate program). The six in the Berkshires join 28 municipalities and four community-based organizations already participating. Williamstown joined the program last year.
In its two years, the program has delivered more than $500,000 to Massachusetts communities.
Mass Save Community First Partnership arrives in Williamstown to help residents pay less for energy this winter
According to Mass Save, emphasis is placed on reaching “renters, residents whose primary language is not English, moderate-income residents [defined as between 60 percent and 80 percent of state median income] and small businesses.”
Lee Town Administrator Christopher Brittain said the town is expecting $25,000, half from the community partnerships program, and half from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, to help residents with energy problems.
The BRPC has applied for the second grant from MassCEC that would allow for $25,000 per town instead of $12,500. The BRPC also intends to use money not tied to Mass Save to assist residents in some of the region’s smaller towns.
“With the hill towns around the Berkshires,” Fernandez-Aubert said, “everyone should be able to access the program at the same level.”
He explained how the BRPC last year reached residents in Williamstown, including by hosting an event and attending other events there.
“We also sent out letters, a couple articles and letters to the editor to raise awareness, and this year we’re trying to be more targeted in our approach,” he said. “We’re trying to make sure the people who need it the most are taking advantage of the program.”
The BRPC often finds people need to upgrade insulation in their homes to be more energy-efficient; for instance, an unfinished basement can contribute to that problem. Fernandez-Aubert said heat pumps are the future of energy efficiency, but many residents who use the program don’t go as far as installing one.
“In an older building, if you don’t have a good heating envelope, which is the ability for a full structure to maintain heat, the advantage of a heat pump doesn’t get utilized,” Fernandez-Aubert said. “It’s important for people to get the weatherization and insulation upgrades so if they get a heat pump, they can really benefit from it.”
The past 16 months, he said, have included significant energy-cost increases. “Helping people reduce that,” Fernandez-Aubert said, “goes a long way.”