By Lisa Fogarty
Until recently, cold gusts of air seeped through the dated windows in Ena Lorde’s single family residence, located on the border of Ridgewood and Bushwick, compelling her to keep her hand poised on the thermostat dial.
Like many Americans, Lorde lacked the disposable income it would take to properly modernize her home. She found herself trapped in a bank-breaking cycle – combat the cold by increasing her heat, pay off exorbitant monthly energy bills – and have too few dollars left over to actually solve the problem.
Lorde’s luck started to change when she discovered a green guardian angel in the form of a local nonprofit organization called the Community Environmental Center (CEC). For 12 years, the Long Island City-based organization has been helping low and moderate-income households and multi-family households reduce their energy use by weatherizing their homes, updating their appliances and accessing their boilers and roofs for damage.
“They changed the windows and put in installation. I’ve noticed a difference in the temperature in my house,” Lorde said. “I appreciate what they’ve done.”
Energy conservation is a red-hot topic these days. When President Barack Obama delivered his first public speech this week to promote his $825 billion stimulus package, the issue of modernizing energy transmission and researching and developing renewable energy technologies was granted a substantial chunk of airtime.
Obama has proposed a bill that provides approximately $43 billion to energy efficiency and clean energy programs, with 2.9 billion available for weatherization efforts, according to Bill Wicker, communications director for the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee. The plan calls for the weatherization of 2 million homes across the U.S. by providing relatively minor repairs such as insulating homes and fixing leaky windows. Although the DOE is operating under a continuing resolution, New York expects to weatherize 20,450 homes using approximately $43,000 in funding that would be allocated to the state this year, said a DOE spokesman.
The funds will be given to the Weatherization Assistance Program, which then allocates money to its providers, including the Community Environmental Center. The CEC offers its weatherization services to both low and moderate-income single-family residences and multi-family residences. To qualify, families must meet the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) eligibility guidelines, which require a household size of four earn no more than $45,312 per year. Multi-family property landlords must prove that at least 50 percent of their tenants meet the income guidelines.
CEC’s main goal is to help clients reduce energy use by assessing their homes for gas leaking and carbon monoxide detection, said Olga Souto, CEC’s weatherization assistance program coordinator. CEC’s contractors also drill holes throughout a house to check the insulation inside the walls, switch light bulbs from incandescent to energy-efficient florescent bulbs and update appliances.
“When you replace a fridge that’s 25 years old, you save money,” Souto said.
Though Lorde says it is still too soon for her to notice a real difference in the amount of money she is saving, the U.S. Department of Energy reported that, on average, weatherization reduces heating bills by 32 percent and overall energy bills by $358 per year at current prices. As a result, this spending is expected to activate job growth and economic development in low-income communities.
“Lower income communities would otherwise have to shoulder so much of their utility bills,” said Lynne Serpe, CEC’s community liaison. “We’re focused very much on those who most need the help and wouldn’t otherwise be involved in the green process.”
To contact the Community Environmental Center, call (718) 784-1444 or visit www.cecenter.org.