In their continuing efforts to balance the state budget, the governor and lawmakers are considering eliminating a program designed to help Pennsylvanians make their homes more energy-efficient. Given the need to help citizens through a difficult economy while also addressing climate change, the program should not be facing such a threat.
The Keystone Home Energy Loan Program provides the only low-interest loans available to homeowners looking to reduce their monthly utility bills and shrink their carbon footprints. Keystone HELP has been enormously successful since its inception in 2006, providing more than 3,500 loans for $20 million in home improvements. Recently, the program has expanded to focus on a "whole house" approach, which allows homeowners to really take a bite out of their energy bills.
Just since February, the program has made more than 200 loans, with close to 500 pending. That represents $1.5 million on the street, being put to use by people who want to improve the efficiency of their homes. And it means more ordinary Pennsylvanians can get financing at a time when banks aren't lending.
The program has also become an important way to spur builders to learn more about energy efficiency. It includes more than 1,200 approved contractors, more than half of whom have received added training on energy efficiency.
The federal Department of Energy recently showcased the program at its National Business Model Summit in Washington, calling it one of the nation's most successful state energy-efficiency programs and a prototype for the nation. If the federal government considers this program a model, why are our state political leaders trying to get rid of it?
The nonprofit Energy Coordinating Agency has been working to improve the efficiency of Philadelphia homes for 25 years. We have expanded our focus to include middle-income homeowners, and we have seen how the Keystone HELP loans have allowed people to make more significant energy-efficiency changes to their homes.
One of our clients, Anne Tapper, the owner of a trinity-style home in South Philly, used the loan to pay for air sealing, insulation, and new windows. The program granted her a loan at an exceptional interest rate and allowed her to get a whole-house "makeover." She says her only regret is that she didn't do so 30 years ago.
Without the Keystone HELP program, homeowners like Anne won't be able to afford home improvements for energy efficiency, which will ultimately do damage to the world as well as to their pocketbooks.
The threatened state budget cuts wouldn't only affect homeowners; small-business owners also could take a hit. Along with Keystone HELP, the state's Small Business Energy Efficiency Grants are slated for elimination. This woefully underfunded program covers up to 25 percent of the cost of improvements for small businesses looking to become more energy-efficient.
Many small businesses have very tight profit margins, making energy savings particularly valuable to them. These businesses are the lifeblood of their communities, and they need support now as they try to survive and take responsible steps toward greener practices.
Nor can these programs be replaced with federal money if the state cuts them. The Department of Energy has determined that federal stimulus funds cannot be used to supplant funding for existing programs such as Keystone HELP and the Small Business Energy Efficiency Grants.
We cannot let these successful programs slip away. That would mean sliding backward instead of confidently striding forward into the new economy.