WISCAP’s endeavors in the energy field center on one word—conservation. The programs operated by the agencies conserve energy and conserve a low-income person’s modest income.
Energy use is a basic necessity of everyday life and the burden of meeting that necessity is one of the greatest faced by low-income households. Whereas the average Wisconsin family pays about 3% of their income on energy costs, those with low incomes pay from 8% to 12% of their income. For those with low incomes, dealing with the often high cost of energy consumption is an everyday concern. Expenditures for food, medicine, clothing, school supplies and more may be cut back or even curtailed altogether.
The cornerstone energy program of WISCAP’s Community Action Agencies is the Weatherization Assistance Program. Thirteen member agencies form the largest single provider network of weatherization services to low-income households in Wisconsin. In 2011, member agencies weatherized more than 6,400 homes, utilizing state and federal funds.
In existence for more than 30 years, the weatherization program focuses on energy efficiency. Each project begins with testing to determine how best to achieve the greatest cost savings, such as a more efficient furnace, furnace repair, insulation or other improvements. Measures are then installed and a rigorous inspection process takes place to assure effective work was done. Based on 2011 commodity prices, these energy efficiency services have proven to save an average of $435 annually in heating and cooling costs.
Low-income households also have access for help in paying their energy bills. Five Community Action agencies, serving 8 counties, operate the federally-funded Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) that provides one-time payments to energy providers toward the energy bills of eligible households. The program also offers assistance in dealing with emergencies, such as for those facing utility shutoffs.