“If we had a little more flexibility.” perceptions of programmatic challenges and opportunities implementing government-funded low-income energy efficiency programs
Since 1976, the U.S. Department of Energy's Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) has provided state block grants for no-to low-cost energy efficiency retrofits for more than 7 million low-income households. Yet, more than 35 million households meet income-qualifications for the program. While numerous program evaluations demonstrate the energy- and non-energy-related benefits of WAP, some argue low uptake, and a low rate of return on retrofit costs to energy savings. To further our understanding of government-funded low-income energy efficiency program implementation, we examined local agency-level perceptions of challenges and opportunities. Findings from semi-structured interviews with program managers, representing one-third of Michigan's WAP funding and retrofit production, suggest three funding-related challenges: funding instability; funding allocation formula; and limited advertising and marketing funding, and two regulatory-related challenges: cumbersome paperwork and restrictive guidelines. Program managers also identified three workaround opportunities: collaboration with utilities and other organizations; intra-agency innovation and integration; and strategic productivity and per unit spending. Lastly, one recommendation for further exploration would be testing the efficacy of granting local agencies greater flexibility to work around funding and regulatory challenges to increase the number of households weatherized, reduce long waitlists and deferral rates, and use staff time more efficiently.