July 9, 2021
Efficiency upgrades can be a financial boost for low-income homeowners, but asbestos, mold and other issues sometimes found in older homes can keep those improvements financially out of reach, even with incentives.
A new Minnesota law aims to bridge that gap.
The state’s existing Conservation Improvement Program failed to incentivize utilities who operate programs for low-income property owners for the cost of “pre-weatherization” services — such as removing asbestos or lead paint — a restriction that deferred as many as a third of potential clients from receiving energy efficiency assistance. Clients in need of pre-weatherization work typically struggled or failed to complete projects since utilities could only cover expenses directly related to energy efficiency.
That will now change with the new Energy Conservation and Optimization (ECO) Act, which updates the Department of Commerce’s Conservation Improvement Program. The ECO Act, signed by Gov. Tim Walz in May, permits utilities to receive credit, for the first time, for pre-weatherization and other preparatory work.
Utilities and energy efficiency nonprofits working with low-income building owners applauded the change and said they may revisit clients who could not be served in the past. The law also requires investor-owned utilities to significantly increase the amount they spend on low-income weatherization projects.
With a new influx of money and a loosening of restrictions, advocates say the ECO Act could eventually improve the comfort of thousands of low-income residents while reducing their energy burden through lower utility bills. They also see opportunities to build a larger and more diverse workforce for energy efficiency projects.