Community Climate Conversation: Modernizing Our Homes & Buildings

Title

Community Climate Conversation: Modernizing Our Homes & Buildings

Description

On Thursday, December 8th, 2022, ABCD and the Belfast Climate Crisis Committee (CCC) hosted the third in the series of Community Climate Conversations. These conversations are designed to inform residents and solicit ideas and input for the Climate Action Plan being drafted by the CCC.

This event focused on the topic of modernizing Belfast’s homes & buildings for energy efficiency for immediate cost savings and to reduce greenhouse gasses. The event took place in the Abbott Room at the Belfast Free Library with an option for Zoom; 25 people attended.

View the recording of this event

Introduction

Buildings are responsible for about 30% of Maine’s greenhouse gas emissions, and, according to the recently released report on Greenhouse Gas emissions in Belfast, residential and commercial energy combined account for 50% of emissions in Belfast. According to the Maine Won’t Wait Two-Year Progress Report (December 2022), Maine is THE most fuel oil dependent state in the country, and with our older housing stock, there are tremendous opportunities for weatherizing and electrifying our homes and buildings - both for our immediate comfort and cost savings, but also for the greater good.

Major takeaways

  • Various comments and contributions in the room reflect broader challenges in the state, namely:  
    • People know they should weatherize their homes, but they do not know exactly what to do, what order to do it in, nor are they easily able to navigate the various incentives (rebates, grants, etc.) in place. These good intentions will go to waste if assistance/guidance isn’t more readily available. (Perhaps this is why attendees chose to focus on things we can do together rather than individual actions!)
    • There are too few contractors trained and staffed to do the weatherization work on homes for all who want it.
  • Belfast needs a climate action group or leader. The two most visible groups leading conversations and building awareness are not able to serve in this role: 
    • The Climate Crisis Committee is an official City committee charged with advising the City Council. It does not have the authority to act independently and therefore cannot lead local action. 
    • Likewise, the ABCD program is a grant-funded project of the Belfast Free Library, itself a municipal institution, and one committed to the mission of "helping individuals of all ages pursue independent learning by providing access to timely and useful information in all formats.”
  • This is a big, big topic. We scratched the surface, heard from others farther along than us, and there’s much more to do. 

Detailed event summary and description

We kicked off the evening with two introductory speakers. Ross Anthony provided a Maine-wide overview on the building efficiency. Naomi Albert shared an example of community-led work in Downeast Maine.  

Ross Anthony, the Buildings and Energy Efficiency Analyst for the Maine Governor’s Energy Office, had exciting updates to share on the state’s progress on its climate action plan, Maine Won’t Wait

  • Weatherization: Maine has weatherized 9,000 dwellings since 2019, and is on track to weatherize 35,000 dwellings by 2030. $25 million in additional funding from the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan is targeted specifically to weatherizing low- and moderate-income homes through Efficiency Maine. 
  • Heat pumps: Maine is a national leader in heat pump installations. The stated goal in the Maine Won’t Wait action plan is to install 100,000 heat pumps by 2025, with 15,000 of those in income-eligible households. Since 2019, 82,325 heat pumps have been installed via Efficiency Maine and Maine Housing. That’s equivalent to offsetting more than 350,000 barrels of oil per year!
  • Heat pump hot water heaters: Since 2018, over 40,000 heat pump water heaters were installed in Maine (these units are three to four times as efficient as electric hot water heaters!)

The Governor’s Energy Office has put together a 2022-2023 Winter Heating Guide with tips & resources to help Mainers save money and utilize available programs. Ross encouraged us to use and share this guide with others who may benefit from it.  

Ross also reported that information is still coming in daily regarding federal funding from the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL). These will include a lot of funding through many programs, including help for individuals through the IRA with additional federal rebates for heat pumps and property tax credits for weatherization. These programs will likely launch in late 2023. 

There are two immediate actions Belfast and its citizens can take:

  1. Seek energy efficiency opportunities for our homes & buildings: Take advantage of the rebates, incentives, and programs available through Efficiency Maine and MaineHousing to improve efficiency of residential, municipal, and commercial buildings. 
  1. Join the Community Resiliency Partnership: This program of the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future (GOPIF) allows communities to establish their own goals and secure resources (including grants) to pursue priority actions. Belfast can see what over 70 towns and cities in the State are doing with their Community Resilience Partnership Fall 2022 Awards. The next round of applications will open in Spring 2023.

You can view Ross’s slide presentation here.


Our second speaker, Naomi Albert, is Project Manager of the soon-to-be-launched (January 2023) “Comprehensive Building Solutions Program” at A Climate To Thrive (ACTT) on Mount Desert Island. 

A Climate To Thrive arose from community potluck discussions, and it is now a non-profit with a vision to achieve energy independence for MDI by 2030 - and to inspire and collaborate with other community-based climate action efforts in Maine. 

Naomi gave an overview of ACTT’s soon-to-be-launched Comprehensive Building Solutions Program, which pulls together all their previous building-related efficiency efforts into one program: weatherization, solar, heat pumps, heat pump hot water heaters, battery storage, info about electric appliances, and quicker fixes like LED light bulbs and low-flow shower heads. 

Although transitioning to an efficient, electric home is becoming increasingly economical with more federal assistance in the works, the process can still be daunting and confusing for homeowners. Recognizing this, ACTT has come up with some inspiring strategies and approaches:

  • Providing assistance to homeowners to make a comprehensive plan for transitioning their home - making a plan and a budget so as not to be caught off guard by emergency replacements. Homeowners are encouraged to start in a place that makes sense for their home and budget - whether it be a large investment like solar or low-hanging fruit like air-sealing. In addition, ACTT provides expert advice on the most efficient sequence for making improvements. For example,, homeowners are advised to air-seal a drafty home first so they can choose the right size heat pump; or and plan their electric vehicle and heat pump electricity needs prior to installing solar. 
  • Training Community Energy Advocates: These volunteers receive basic training on technologies, the comprehensive approach, and available financing to prepare them to support others in navigating energy improvements. Volunteers are not asked to be energy experts, but to encourage and assist fellow community members in taking steps towards energy efficiency.
  • Home Improvement Campaigns with trusted contractors: ACTT has developed a cooperative model for multiple homeowners to work with a vetted contractor and used it successfully for solar panel installation and home weatherization. ACTT chooses a contractor and educates homeowners regarding the work the contractor might do, and makes a list of committed customers. The contractor benefits from working with knowledgeable customers and scheduling multiple similar projects in a discrete region, and in turn shares that benefit in savings with homeowners. 
  • Creating a model that can be replicated in other communities. 

Naomi invited attendees to learn more about ACTT’s upcoming Building Solutions Fair on Saturday, January 14th, 2023 at MDI High School, including workshops and conversations with energy experts and contractors.

If you’d like to learn or do more:

You can view Naomi’s slide presentation here

 

Community discussion: "things we can do together"

After the two presentations and a Q&A session with the speakers, attendees elected to start our discussion by brainstorming ideas for things people can work on together with the intention of informing the Climate Action Plan draft and inspiring immediate action. 

In the category of “things we can do together,” ideas included:

  • Window Dressers - a community-based year-round non-profit volunteer organization that builds low-cost insulating custom window inserts
  • Belfast needs a Weatherization Campaign modeled on ACTT’s new program! Information about it could be shared door-to-door; volume discounts could be worked out with contractors. Needed: Volunteers, partnering vetted contractors, communications.
  • “Green Homes Tours” to showcase efficiency improvements. Include homes representing all housing in Belfast, from mobile homes to prefab to more costly homes and renovations (think Belfast Open Garden Tours; find inspiration from the Northwest Green Homes Tour). Needed: Volunteers to identify and recruit appropriate homes to showcase.
  • Active outreach to folks whose homes are in great need of weatherization. There are real privacy concerns to protect; attendees were interested in proactive efforts to find and serve those in need without violating privacy. Perhaps crowd-source this list of names?
  • Outreach efforts to share opportunities, information on rebates, and advice through high school, farmers market, Climate Symposium attendees, churches
  • Consider and review building codes to ensure that new construction is being held to appropriately strict efficiency standards. (Currently, the Maine Uniform Building and Energy Code (MUBEC) requires adherence to 2015 International Codes and applies in all Maine towns with a population of at least 4,000 people. Towns may elect to implement more stringent standards. Significant challenges exist in workforce availability, workforce training, and code enforcement.)
  • Advocate for a non-profit inspector system to support more effective code enforcement at a lower cost per municipality; explore sharing a code enforcement agent among multiple towns or even Waldo County-wide?
  • Launch a citizen action group to complement the Climate Crisis Committee. This idea arose when our discussion clarified that the Climate Crisis Committee is an official City committee charged with advising the City Council. It does not have the authority to act independently and therefore cannot lead local action. Likewise, the ABCD program is a grant-funded project of the Belfast Free Library, itself a municipal institution, and one committed to the mission of "helping individuals of all ages pursue independent learning by providing access to timely and useful information in all formats.” Belfast needs a person/group to lead action. "Climate and Community Action Teams" of the Sierra Club could serve as potential model.
  • Help residents make sense of the growing array of incentives and opportunities and prioritize the efficiency measures so it’s easier for people to take action.  

Community discussion: "things we'd like the Belfast (the City) to do"

Our discussion next turned to “things we'd like Belfast (the City) to do” and like to see in the Climate Action Plan:

  • Hire a Sustainability Director - and consider sharing this person/position with nearby towns to share knowledge and share cost?
  • Integrate climate considerations into Comprehensive Plan (this effort is currently underway)
  • Explore regional collaboration such as the Climate Resilience Partnership program the State of Maine supports.
  • Set a specific local goal and time frame for greenhouse gas emission reduction in Belfast, e.g.: “Cut greenhouse gas emissions by xx% by the year 20xx.” 
  • Rework the Belfast budget to reflect climate impact risks, value of long-term investment, etc. For example, structure the budget such that when infrastructure is damaged by climate-strengthened weather events, we rebuild to withstand future events of similar or greater strength rather than merely replacing what was damaged. 

The group also wanted answers/clarity on the following questions: 

  • What can Belfast do outside of Maine's Community Resilience Partnership? 

View the recording of this event


Final event in Community Climate Conversations series coming up

One more Community Climate Conversation is planned, tentatively for early February 2023, on the topic of Transportation.

Learn more about this upcoming event.

Creator

ABCD Team, Belfast Climate Crisis Committee

Date

December 8, 2022

Contributor

Ross Anthony, Buildings and Energy Efficiency Analyst for the Maine Governor’s Energy Office
Naomi Albert, Project Manager , Comprehensive Building Solutions Program at A Climate To Thrive (ACTT)

Citation

ABCD Team, Belfast Climate Crisis Committee, “Community Climate Conversation: Modernizing Our Homes & Buildings,” All of Belfast: Climate Dialogues, accessed May 27, 2024, https://abcdbelfast.omeka.net/items/show/129.

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