Beltrami & Cass Counties

Building capacity to expand home weatherization

Money for grant administration creates more opportunity

Partnering to serve
homeowners

 

Minnesota Energy Resources was looking to spend money recently to meet conservation improvement goals and to improve the homes of low-income customers through weatherization. But there was a problem. The natural gas utility needed a partner who had funding to administer the program and carry out the work.

In Beltrami and Cass counties, Minnesota Energy Resources turned to Bi-County Community Action Programs (BI-CAP) Inc. As one of the 23 community action partnerships in Minnesota, BI-CAP offers low-income residents of the two counties energy assistance, weatherization, Head Start, supportive housing and a youth program.

 

Much-needed administrative support

Weatherization manager Jeff Farr said his agency’s existing program funds annually complete 60 to 70 client’s homes. The utility’s contract with BI-CAP partnered funds to weatherize eight homes but not for the administration of the project. State law requires natural gas utilities to spend .05 percent of their operating revenues on conservation improvement in the areas they serve.

“They have a great program with a lot of funds available that could benefit a lot of people but we struggled to spend their money because they offer minimal funds to administer it, and that was not sustainable for us.”

Farr applied for and received a $2,000 CERTs Seed Grant to pay for administering the utility’s contribution to the weatherization program, which is mainly funded by the Department of Energy.

Eight homes received weatherization with the partnered funds—the CERTs grant paid for administration costs and Minnesota Energy Resources paid for the improvements provided.

The weatherization process

The weatherization program begins with a one-hour home pre-assessment to determine if a home is eligible for weatherization. If approved, the next step involves a three-to-four-hour energy audit to determine what improvements have energy savings and can reduce heat consumption.

The agency hires, manages, and inspects the work of a licensed contractor along the way and spends time educating and informing clients about the efficiency changes in their home.

The normal weatherization project includes insulating walls, attics, foundations, ducts, pipes and sealing of air leaks. Ventilation is addressed for dryers and exhaust fans, smoke and CO alarms are added along with adding caulk or weather-strip to mitigate air leaks.

Water heating and furnace equipment will be replaced if needed and programmable thermostats installed, along with water saving showerheads and aerators. Weatherization reduces heating and cooling costs anywhere from 10 to 50 percent, according to the DOE.

68 out of 3,500

The need for weatherization outstrips the funding. More than 3,500 families in Beltrami and Cass counties receive support from the federal Energy Assistance Program, which helps pay for heating bills. Here are a few responses BI-CAP has heard from their energy assistance clients:

  • "I am 83 years old; without fuel assistance, I’d probably be in a nursing home."
  • "With the rising cost of electricity and fuels and no rise in our income, it helps us to make our bills. What a blessing."
  • "Energy Assistance allowed us to have more money for expenses and groceries, etc. to keep our children warm & safe during the long Minnesota winters."

But just 68 families this year will receive weatherization from BI-CAP out of all families receiving energy assistance.

“A lot of them feel like they won the lottery,” Farr said. “They’re happy because we come in and make their homes more efficient, warmer and reduce their heating bills.” One client wrote to Farr and his staff: “To all the wonderful people at BI-CAP, thanks for helping me get a new furnace in my house.”

NW-BICAP_Photo2_thankyoucard.jpg

Our program really can only serve a small portion of the need. The CERTs money allowed us to stretch our dollars further and allowed us to serve more clients in our community making their homes warm and efficient.

Jeff Farr, Weatherization Manager at BI-CAP

Project Snapshot

 
  • Technology: Home weatherization including lighting, appliances, heating and cooling equipment, insulation and sealing, windows
  • Northwest CERT Seed Grant: $2,000
  • Total Project Cost: $744,000
  • Other Funds: Department of Energy, Weatherization Energy Assistance Program funds, propane grants, utility
  • Project Team: Jeff Farr, Joan VanGrinsven, Harrison Hicks, and Gregg Shogren - BI-CAP
  • People Involved and Reached: 230
  • Annual Energy Savings: 11,012 kWh and 3,227 therms