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Thursday, Oct 23, 2014
Local News

Programs help families save money and energy

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TAMPA — When it comes to summertime electricity bills, it is sometimes difficult to weather the storm. However, for those who qualify, help is available to not only beat the heat, but ease the squeeze on your wallet.

Since 1976, the federal government has been implementing programs to strengthen the energy efficiency of homes and businesses. Locally, organizations such as the Tampa-Hillsborough Action Plan (THAP) have programs for “weatherizing” homes using resources available through those federal subsidies that, in many instances, result in savings of between 30 percent and 50 percent on electricity bills. In some cases, there is a minimal or zero investment for the consumer.

“The premise of these programs is that if some improvements in the efficiency in households are implemented, the energy consumption in the state can be reduced by 20 percent. If the multiplier effect is taken into consideration at the national level, this can have an effect on lowering energy dependence,” said Derrick Blue, director of energy services for THAP.

“Our work is to identify residences of low-income families and help those residents to take the steps to access the funds available to make improvements,” he added.

Blue said that even middle-income households can take advantage of some programs offered by local power companies, and at THAP, “we can do assessment of the property and guide homeowners through the most efficient and cost-effective way,” to weatherize their homes.

According to data from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), electricity bills, after food, are the second largest recurrent household expenditure. The federal Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) was created, in part, to help poor families and to maximize the nation’s natural resources.

Initially, WAP was legislated in 1976 as a result of the energy crisis, and authorized the U.S. Department of Energy to implement programs to improve homes and businesses to be more energy efficient. Through the years, other agencies, such as HHS, have been involved to complement the energy consumption reduction with social assistance.

Through WAP and HHS programs such as Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), states access funds to assist cities, counties and nonprofit organizations, including THAP, in this quest.

For fiscal year 2013, the Florida program has an allocation of $3.02 billion, with $2.9 million of it assigned to Hillsborough County through the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

Blue explained that as part of its services, THAP technicians “make a full study of the structure and make its recommendations. Once that process is completed, requisitions of materials are made and, if we do not have the knowledge or experience in a certain arrangement or improvement, we look for other certified contractors. The truth is that any improvement must be certified and inspected.”

Modifications may consist of simple things, such as replacing windows, resealing some terminations or repairing air ducts. In other cases, things may get a little more complicated, such as the replacement of electrical appliances. During the inspection, the estimates from the technicians will help determine if the residents are eligible for subsidies.

Blue explained that, due to budget cuts, weatherization programs funded by cities aimed at low-income housing have been disappearing, leaving nonprofits like THAP to do most of the work.

“But it all comes down to the fact that the more homes that are weatherized, the greater the benefit is for all. This is not just about low-income families, it’s about all of us being more efficient,” said Blue in reference to incentive programs offered by companies such as Tampa Electric, Progress Energy and Duke Energy.

“Weatherization makes sense in many ways. It saves energy, it increases property value without a major investment and it makes for a more comfortable residence.”

For details, call THAP at (866) 378-8228, a toll-free number. Services are available in Spanish and English.

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