DESCRIPTION OF THE STRATEGY
Over the past decade, the deregulation of the electric utility industry has prompted the creation of public benefit funds in many states. The funds, which total more than $1.5 billion, support a wide range of activities related to energy conservation including home improvements that produce energy savings, such as increased insulation, air infiltration reduction, and sometimes window replacement. Policies are set by the state energy-related agency through negotiations with the key funding source(s).
Because such funds often target lower income households who suffer disproportionately from lead hazards, the synergies are intriguing. The challenge is that these funds often strictly focus on energy, and efforts to broaden the eligible activities could be perceived as diluting the programs’ purpose. As a result, few utility benefits programs are currently factoring lead hazard reduction considerations into the program design.
Reducing lead hazards in the course of projects to make energy conservation improvements will have a direct impact on reducing lead exposure in high-risk properties. Such action can prevent lead poisoning and control lead hazards in the home.
Repairing lead hazards through window replacement or repair and correction of moisture problems can reduce lead exposure and help to alleviate or prevent mold, which can exacerbate respiratory problems.
These actions can improve the overall building quality and energy usage (e.g., utility bills) making the building more durable and comfortable. Controlling lead hazards can also improve overall building quality, durability, and energy efficiency.
Scope of Potential Impact
|State Energy Agency|
Short-term staff resources are required to develop the expansion of eligible activities to include lead and other health concerns. Staffing to clarify the actions that are eligible for public utility funding and appropriate protocols and procedures will need to be integrated into existing structures for the administration of public benefit funds.
Other resource requirements:
Weatherization program crews may need additional training to check for and repair lead hazards.
It is essential that the entity determining the scope and eligible activities for public benefit funds take steps to clarify that lead hazard control activities are eligible for funding. This may require a change in state statutory authority or a policy change by a state commission or entity that oversees the program and/or the utility that is providing the funds through the fee attached to utility bills.
Once a decision is made to expand the use of the public benefits funds, the only cost of implementing the expansion is minimal staff to oversee the lead hazard repair services.
It may take over a year to gain policy agreement to expand the scope of activities funded by the public benefit funds to support lead hazard assessment and repair. If such actions are already eligible, then an additional six months to one year is likely needed to get the program up and running.
Moderate. Making public benefits funds available for lead hazard control work may require substantial advocacy and planning efforts.
A key potential obstacle may be opposition by energy conservation advocates who may be concerned that expanding the scope of eligible activities for funding by public benefit funds will reduce the number of homes receiving energy improvements.