One year ago, the passing of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) was the wind beneath the wings of clean energy. The Act lifted the efforts to modernize the American energy system and allowed new technologies, innovations, and incentives to take flight. More than $430 billion was invested to lower energy costs for American households and businesses, spark clean energy innovation, improve human health, improve our energy security, and mitigate climate change.
The Office of State and Community Energy Programs (SCEP) was created with a lofty goal: To be the front door of the Department of Energy (DOE), and to fuel the evolution and adoption of clean energy across nation. And the best way to do that? Find the movers and shakers, the pillars in every community, city, and state; and then give them the resources and help they need to transform their communities in a way that makes sense locally and with the greatest impact. Focus on historically disadvantaged and underserved communities to make sure they’re not left behind in this energy transition, and create good, family-sustaining job opportunities to lift not just the burden of energy costs, but people’s lives.
This past year, we’ve worked hard to engage practically every stakeholder imaginable representing those whose lives and livelihoods are affected by energy: From government officials to trade organizations, to community and non-profit leaders to business owners. As we work around the clock to develop guidance and deploy programs and resources made possible by the IRA, we are building on existing success from working with state and local governments on our annual programs. Today, we are seeing some of our hard work under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and other investments finally come to fruition: Successes that the IRA will dramatically amplify.
Tucked in the southwest section of Memphis, TN, Riverview Elementary/Middle School is not only used as a community school for approximately 437 K-8 students, but also a community shelter for its surrounding neighborhood. The area ranks in the 99th percentile on many of the EPA’s EJScreen indices and is considered a DOE Disadvantaged Community. The Memphis-Shelby County Schools (MSCS) district was selected as a selectee of SCEP’s Renew Schools Program, and expects to use their funds to upgrade HVAC systems, provide new exterior windows, switch to energy-efficient lighting, and also install solar arrays. Not only are the students now able to stay cool in blistering heat, the school will be able to direct money saved from lower energy bills to where it’s needed the most.
Similarly, the Renew America’s Schools selectee Greenup County School District in Greenup, KY, is planning to transform schools in their area for the better. Located in northeast Kentucky and in a Disadvantaged Community, the district will undergo energy improvements using the latest technologies supported by an energy savings performance contract (also under SCEP). These improvements range from installing solar electric panels, solar thermal water heating, and solar/geothermal heating/cooling; to replacing roofs and single-pane windows. The district is also starting a Green Energy Pathway for high school students, and is partnering with local unions – the Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky Regional Council of Carpenters (IKORCC) in particular – to help the district develop curriculum to cultivate the next generation of green energy industry professionals.
Schools are just one piece of the greater puzzle of upgrading our nation’s energy. Through the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), we are making life-changing improvements and thinking outside the box when it comes to bringing energy efficiency into disadvantaged communities.
In Greenfield, Wisconsin, winter temperatures can easily go below freezing. The Jorgensen family could only do so much to upgrade their home on a fixed income. With help from WAP, the Jorgensens were able to insulate their attic and walls, along with upgrading to a new energy efficient furnace. The result? The family saw their energy bill drop by more than half in three months—from $347 down to $134. The improvements not only lowered energy costs, the home has never been more comfortable for the residents, even in the winter months. The Jorgensens are just one of the families that benefited from the WAP Program in their neighborhood. La Casa de Esperanza, a community-based organization in WI, received more than $2.4 million from the program to weatherize and transform qualified, low-income residential households nearby.
And this is just the beginning.
SCEP recently announced the IRA Home Energy Rebate Programs Administrative and Legal Requirements, which allows states to start applying for funding to develop their own localized rebate programs. These programs will allow homeowners to save money if they choose to upgrade their homes and appliances to become more energy efficient. While most states will likely have their programs ready to go by next year, some states may have their programs as early as the end of this year. That could mean instant savings right at your local store for ENERGY STAR appliances, and more affordable upgrades to electric heat pumps and other home improvements.
We are also empowering states to set up training programs to cultivate talent in the green building industry and train existing professionals through the Training for Residential Energy Contractors program. These trained professionals will be able to help conduct energy audits, install the newest energy-saving technologies and appliances, and help homeowners take full advantage of not only the rebates, but lower energy bills from green home improvements.
Coming this Fall, we are gearing up to help states adopt the latest energy-efficiency building codes, and to engage and train professionals to ensure that all new buildings will be built in-accordance to these codes. This work will raise the floor on how efficiently we build new construction, help save consumers money on their utility bills and combat climate change.
States, local governments, and tribes will soon have the resources to carry out energy-saving projects and programs through our Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program, whether it’s setting up electric vehicle charging stations, upgrading old municipal buildings, or powering entire communities with solar microgrids.
One year after the IRA, SCEP has made friends and connections everywhere. We have visited communities, talked to state and local officials, worked with partners and stakeholders, all towards the same goal: Transforming our nation's energy landscape and opening doors to new opportunities. We look forward to deploying better, faster, and stronger; to more places in every city street, every country road, every island town. And continue to change lives in America for the better.