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Energy efficiency funds to triple

MANATEE — With the announcement of more federal funding, more area homeowners who qualify can expect to participate in the state program that helps reduce energy costs.

The Manatee Community Action Agency, which operates the state’s weatherization project, was told funding will triple for the program.

Barbara Patten, executive director of the Action Agency, said the agency was budgeted to receive $198,000 for the program and she was told it will be at least three times that much.

With the increase in funding, Patten said more people will be able to qualify for the program.

A family of four with a household income of $44,100, or 200 percent above the federal poverty income guidelines, can have up to $6,500 worth of energy-saving improvement made to their home, according to James Miller, public affairs representative for the Florida Department of Community Affairs.

He said the state agency, which will distribute the funds, is waiting for federal spending guidelines, but the program will give preferences to the elderly, the disabled and families with children under 12 years of age.

The White House announced Thursday that Florida will receive more than $302 million from the stimulus package approved last month for home weatherization and energy efficiency programs.

The new money boosts one state agency’s program budget by more than 83.5 percent, from $29 million to almost $176 million.

Miller, said when the federal Department of Energy first announced the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding for the program it was set at $111 million.

“Much of the weatherization money goes to the northern states,” he said, “because they think of the cold of winter.”

But, Miller said, Floridians can save energy costs through insulation, sealing leaks, and modernizing air conditioning equipment, all projects where the homeowner can be helped.

Patten said the program has been very successful for the Action Agency, an umbrella agency that includes more than a dozen services to help move people from poverty to self-sufficiency.

“Some of our clients have told us they have cut their electric usage in half,” she said.

DCA’s Miller said state figures show an average household’s energy expense was $1,267 annually, and the program could save about $350 a year.

The program not only provides a safer, cleaner environment, Patten said, but it “successfully reduces utility costs that can be used for other family needs.”

The federal energy agency also on Thursday announced it was providing more than $126 million for the Florida energy program.

Sarah Williams, spokeswoman for the Governor’s Energy and Climate Commission, said the federal government has not issued guidelines yet on how the state can spend the money.

But the commission already provides grants and tax incentives for renewable and alternative energy programs and rebates for solar energy installations.

For more information on the Manatee Community Action Agency’s weatherization program visit the Web site at www.manateecaa.org.

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