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October 26, 2020

Arlington Residential Energy Conservation Program: Give out $1,000 grants to Arlington homeowners to weatherize, conserve, and reduce carbon emissions by up to 20 percent

environment,Uncategorized — @ 4:28 pm

Carbon emissions in Arlington averaged 9.1 metric tons (MT) per capita in 2016 or a total 2.0 million MT for Arlington.  About 23 percent of carbon emissions in Arlington came from homes, according to Arlington County.  In 2019, the Arlington County Board set the goal in the Arlington Community Energy Plan (CEP) to have a carbon neutral Arlington by 2050.

There are 28,500 were single family-detached houses, and 11,200 single family-attached houses in Arlington, most of which are owner occupied. Energy conservation (generally weatherization, insulation, and sealing air leaks) is the most cost effective way to reduce carbon emissions in a house; many houses in Arlington were built decades ago, and while some have been improved to high energy efficiency, the majority have not.  

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has indicated that low cost weatherization and more insulation can cut household use of electricity by 7 percent and heating by 18 percent, and save the homeowner about $300 a year.  Such energy conservation is the ‘low hanging fruit’ of addressing climate change.

To encourage Arlington homeowners to undertake energy conservation, the county government should fund a program to give out a $1,000 grant to cover the costs so every household can have an energy audit, and then do the most effective and lowest cost recommendations to cut heating and cooling.   The goal would be to reduce the energy use over 5 years in three-quarters of the 40,000 existing single-family detached and attached Arlington households by up to 20 percent. This will NOT make the house carbon neutral, but it will cut carbon emissions in homes substantially, and perhaps homeowners would take additional steps like solar panels on roof on their own.

The program would operate on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis to recruit Arlington homeowners to have a free energy audit of their home that would provide a detailed plan for energy conservation measures to cut use of electricity, water and natural gas.  The program would pay the homeowner $50 for participating, and then up to $1,000 for the highest priority energy improvements recommended in the energy audit.   This program’s goal is to have all homeowners eventually get an energy audit, and to begin to at least do the low cost changes that will reduce energy use.

Existing weatherization programs today in Arlington are targeted at low income homeowners of whom there are few in Arlington, and thus weatherization has not met its full potential.  EcoAction Arlington has had a small program of weatherization done by volunteers in low income apartments and houses.   Inertia and lack of interest by many homeowners and the hassle of getting an energy audit, and then following up with contractors or the homeowner doing the work them self, has impeded energy conservation in Arlington.

Funding for the residential energy conservation program would be obtained by raising the Arlington utility tax on electricity and the separate tax on natural gas from current $3 per household per month to $6 per month and eventually to $15 per month.  This is a carbon tax that makes electricity and natural gas more expensive.  The tax proceeds from the additional utility tax would mostly be rebated to homeowners to weatherize and reduce their utility bills by more than the additional tax would cost.

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