Manatee thinking green, thinking jobs

Restore the environment, restore the economy.

That’s the idea behind $5 billion in economic stimulus money that’s going to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program.

The federal money was earmarked to bring energy efficiency upgrades to more low-income homes nationwide, while at the same time creating jobs.

“These recovery dollars are being used to connect the worker who needs work to the work that needs to be done,” said Van Jones, a special adviser to the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality.

Jones hosted a teleconference Tuesday to discuss the stimulus funds for the Weatherization Assistance Program and how it aims to tackle two pressing issues facing the nation: improving the economy and the environment.

The $5 billion will be dispersed nationwide for weatherization improvements such as insulation, sealing ducts, plumbing, and tuning and repairing heating and cooling systems.

Jones said the program targets low-income homes that are leakiing energy to cut energy consumption and lower utility bills for homeowners.

Weatherization creates an average energy savings of $344 a year.

In return, the weatherization improvements will add jobs as the nation’s workforce will be tapped to make the repairs,

Of the $5 billion, Florida is expected to receive $175 million. The state is the seventh-highest recipient of the weatherization stimulus funds, with the most — $394 million — going to New York.

An estimated 38 million homes in the nation qualify for weatherization program, of which one million are expected to receive repairs.

Tallahassee is still formulating a state plan and contracts to determine how the $175 million will be dispersed locally.

Barabara Patten, executive director of the Manatee Community Action Agency, said Manatee and Sarasota counties are estimated to receive a combined $5 million.

Patten said to prepare the Manatee Community Action Agency has put out bids for the program to give local businesses a heads up about the project.

“We’re trying to keep the business in terms of Sarasota homes in Sarasota and homes we’re rehabbing in Manatee we’re trying to keep with businesses in Manatee,” Patten said.

Tallahassee isn’t expected to deliver specifics of the weatherization stimulus funding and spending details until May.

However, it will be far more than Manatee County typically receives from the state for the program.

“Usually, we receive about $20,000 in weatherization,” said Susan Schoenherr, director of weatherization for Manatee Community Action Agency. “So this is huge.”

A family of four that makes $44,000 or less is eligible for improvements, and the income level for individuals is $21,000 or less.

Low-income households that meet the program’s requirements will be eligible to receive up to $6,500 in energy efficiency repairs.

The Manatee Community Action Agency will work of a list of energy efficiency priorities to determine what weatherization improvements a home qualifies for and can receive.

Air infiltration is the biggest priority on the list, which also includes priorities such as replacement of refrigerators, heating or cooling systems, water heaters and light bulbs.

The agency has been gathering applications from potential households, as well as reaching out to low-income homeowners whose utility bills have spiked.

“I’ve had everybody wanting to get on board with this program,” Schoenherr said.

For further information on the weatherization program, call (941) 827-2887.