Last week I was in Charleston, South Carolina for a meeting of the National Association of State Community Services Programs (NASCSP). This week I stopped by West Coast Green taking place at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. NASCSP is a group of state managers for the Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) for low-income families. West Coast Green is an interactive conference focusing on innovation for the built environment. From crawlspaces to sheep’s wool insulation, from composting toilets and rainwater harvesting to quick and easy multifamily building air leakage measurements, between these two conferences, it’s all about covered.
The NASCSP meeting was the largest every; it included 350 people from 58 states and territories, including Saipan, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam. The conference is a contrast to the 2009 NASCSP mid-winter meeting, when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was being debated in Congress. The Weatherization program went from $0 funding set aside in the Bush budget to $5-billion in ARRA funding. The state managers and the weatherization community is more mature, a little tired, more realistic, but still enthusiastic. Most of the people there last week were not there in 2009. Worries about succession among the old-timers are gone.
The focus in Charleston was on reporting on positive results—the numbers of homes weatherized and the amount of energy saved. There had been some bad press in the summer of 2009 about the lack of results—much of it true. There have been growing pains over the last 18 months. The Davis-Bacon prevailing wage laws were applied to WAP technicians for the first time, and the Department of Labor had to step into to set wages by region. The Historical Preservation Act requirements also applied to WAP for the first time, meaning that weatherization measures cannot substantially affect the exterior or visible interior of an historic building being weatherized. This is a problem if window replacements are required, among other things. The accelerated ramp-up in hiring and job scope was a huge challenge, and new strenuous reporting requirements.
But the results so far are encouraging. Nearly 200,000 homes have been weatherized in 18 months through ARRA funding. And the pace of weatherizing homes reached more than 30,000 homes per month in July.