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Groups work to find long-term answers to energy insecurity

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Posted at 10:02 AM, Dec 09, 2022

Randy Blankenship has faced his fair share of Midwest winters. Staying warm in Wisconsin can get pricey, especially for someone who makes $15 an hour.

“I know with my electric bill, I was paying $300 in the winter," Blankenship said. "By the time I get done paying everything, I got maybe 80 bucks to my name.”

This winter, however, even with energy prices soaring, Blankenship's energy bill is less expensive. That's because his low-income apartment building is now heated by energy-efficient pumps and solar panels.

“Right now, I’d say about $150 it saves me in electric," Blankenship said.

Western Wisconsin-based nonprofit Couleecap, which owns Blankenship's building, installed the new technology as part of a pilot program with the state. They are looking into whether weatherizing low-income homes with more efficient technology can lead to long-term savings.

“Some people, $150, oh that’s another meal, but that means a lot when you’re that low income," says Couleep's Tom Mayne.

Couleecap CEO Hetti Brown expects it to save the state’s energy assistance program $34,000 over a decade.

“This is a smarter way to use our tax dollars. This is a smarter way we can ensure people can be living in a sustainable manner," Brown said.

While warmth on the coldest days and cool air on the hottest are essential, access to the right temperature isn’t always equal.

"There’s certainly energy assistance programs, but the long-term solution is to provide different options for them and increase their efficiencies inside their home so that their money can go even further,” says Lynnea Katz-Petted, CEO of Revitalize Milwaukee, a nonprofit that weatherizes people's homes for free.

Milwaukee has more than double the national average of homes built before 1940. Many of Revitalize Milwaukee's clients are older homeowners who can’t afford the upgrades needed to heat their homes efficiently.

"You can see homelessness, you can see someone who is standing in line for a food bank and trying to get assistance for their family; what I think most of our homeowners are dealing with is private and behind a lot of doors," Katz-Petted said.

More than $3 billion of the bipartisan infrastructure law is going to weatherize homes nationwide.

There's hope the energy efficiency program Blankenship is a part of will save him thousands of dollars every year.

It's money he can use to help make ends meet and potentially give him an exit from the annual cycle of not-knowing if a safe temperature at home is something he can afford.