New initiative fosters energy efficiency for low income families in Blaine

By Stefanie Donahue

With approval from Blaine City Council and commitment from Whatcom County’s Public Utilities District No. 1 (PUD-1), local officials are excited to announce the launch of a new energy efficiency program offered to select low income families in Blaine.

The weatherization program is sponsored in full by PUD-1 and will allow for five to six low-income families to make their home more energy efficient during the first year of the program. A total of $50,000 will be allocated from PUD-1, which earns rebates generated through the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) —in the past, the PUD-1 has transferred unspent rebate dollars to local jurisdictions to foster energy efficiency in the community.

The program will be managed by the Bellingham-based Opportunity Council, which has a long history in supporting low-income individuals and families in the area. For years, the organization has provided weatherization services throughout Whatcom County.

Whether it be retrofitting an old gas station or commercial facility, energy conservation programs are nothing new to Blaine, explained public works director Ravyn Whitewolf. However, the weatherization program is a bit different, she said.

The new initiative targets residents directly, she said. Blaine’s program is available to renters and homeowners and targets improvements ranging from heating and cooling systems to the sealant on windows and doors.

Ultimately, the program aims to lower energy costs and helps to ensure the health, safety and efficiency of the home.

“I’ve always wanted to do weatherization,” she said. “We do have a population there that still may need help.”

Weatherization programs are offered throughout the United States and are sponsored by federal agencies including the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Since 1976 the program has helped an approximate 7 million individuals and families, according to the DOE.

homeIn the last year, the Opportunity Council has helped to weatherize more than 100 homes in the county, according to an annual report. The organization’s program manager Kyle White said they were responsible for weatherizing approximately 13 Blaine homes last year and about 50 in the last five years.

To qualify, residents must not make more than 200 percent of the federal poverty guideline or 60 percent of the state median income, he said. Additional need-based criteria, including age, types of energy used and the fuel used to heat a home, are also considered, he said.

The Opportunity Council regularly receives funding from federal agencies, such as the department of energy and the department of health and human services, the BPA, statewide agencies and others to offer upgrades at no cost to low-income families in the county.

In Blaine, more than 270 homes qualify for reduced utility rates based on income, Whitewolf said. “If you’re already receiving a reduced utility rate, you may apply,” she said.

While those who benefit from the reduced utility rate will be considered first for the incentive program, it doesn’t mean they will qualify. Each applicant must go through a detailed auditing process conducted by the Opportunity Council to take part in the program.

Whitewolf said older homes are more likely to fit the bill. New homes are typically more energy efficient. Older homes, particularly rentals, are what most often require the most work to obtain energy efficiency status, she said.

Blaine fits the demographic of a community that could benefit from this type of service, she said, as 2 percent of the population is already on a reduced utility rate.

“It’s a win-win here,” Whitewolf said. “We’re really looking forward to it.”

For more information, contact the Blaine Public Works Department by calling 360/332-8820.

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