The rumor mill has been rampant with discussions of a major increase in HWAP funding by Congress. On April 22nd, Biden announced a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030. The American Jobs Plan, a proposed $2.7 trillion stimulus and climate change package, is being designed to meet this goal. For several weeks various elements of the legislation have been floated, including a nationwide electric vehicle charging infrastructure; traditional infrastructure spending such as upgrading bridges, roads, and airports; and non-traditional concepts of infrastructure such as expanded child care.
We know that low-income weatherization is being discussed as a major component of President Biden’s plan. The general outlines of the American Jobs Plan include $400 billion in clean energy tax credits (which includes efficiency); $126 billion to build over 1,000,000 energy efficiency housing units; and, provide $40 billion to upgrade public housing. Within these broad commitments, details are hard to determine.
The Washington lobbying community is actively involved in shaping the package. The Building Performance Association is pushing legislation called Hope for Homes, a $500 million weatherization training program coupled with $6.5 billion in tax credits similar to those available during the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA). Housing advocates, along with a number of environmental groups, are pushing multifamily housing development and weatherization.
So what about WAP? Details are tough to find. OPAE and NCAF solicited input from agencies on things that should be done to make growing the program smoother. Key among this was making it a multi-year program – 5 to 10 years – and giving us time to build up the workforce needed.
My judgment is that we are looking at somewhere around $1 billion per year for at least 5 years. That would mean about $50 million for Ohio. I know that many are concerned with a huge increase in funding, but for Ohio, spending an extra $50 million per year should not be a heavy lift.
In the upcoming program year – 2021 – the Ohio network will spend just over $100 million if we are permitted to roll over unspent electric utility funds. There have been reductions in electric utility spending because HB 6 repealed the energy efficiency standards. These programs will likely return over the next several years. The Commission is planning a series of workshops to review energy efficiency programs. The OPAE network has a great story to tell.
I know folks are concerned about a massive funding increase like we experienced during ARRA. I don’t see that in the future. Remember, ARRA provided Ohio with $227 million over two years; we actually spent it out in 27 months. It took the WAP national network almost 5 years to spend the money. We are looking at $50 million per year over at least 5 years, or roughly the equivalent of what we spent in just over 2 years. Will it be a challenge? Yes. Is it an insurmountable challenge? No, I don’t think so. If we have adequate ramp-up time, can increase wages, and can get the equipment needed we can put a lot of people to work, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and provide our clients with the benefits of safer, healthier, and more affordable housing.