“It’s taking back control:” Virginians are solving energy problems thanks to RGGI money
For the last decade, Bert Collins worked as a foreman at a construction company, putting in insulation, windows, and doors on other people’s homes.
So when his own home needed repairs, he had plenty of technical expertise to get the work done. There was just one problem.
“I would have done it myself,” Bert explains, “if I could have afforded it.”
Bert lives in Blacksburg with his wife, Lisa, in a trailer home up on a hill. A lone streetlight lights up the main road, with the Collins at the end next to their son, BJ, and his girlfriend Kathy. They like to take their all-terrain vehicles up the mountain to ride around and watch the deer.
“If you’ve never been here in the mountains, the neighbors aren’t right on top of you,” says Lisa. “You can see trees. It’s quiet. Peaceful.”
Until Virginia began participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative last year, a lot of families like the Collins didn’t have options when it came to doing critical repairs on their homes.
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, known as “Reggie” from its acronym RGGI, is a successful program to reduce pollution that directly helps Virginians like the Collins. Utilities in Virginia have to buy an allowance for every ton of carbon dioxide that comes out of their power plants. Virginia invests the money it receives from the sale of those allowances into affordable housing upgrades, flood resilience — and energy efficiency measures like the kind the Collins’ home needed.
“A lot of people out here really need this stuff done. But they don’t know how to go about it,” says Bert.
In Virginia, all of the energy efficiency funds from RGGI go directly to help low-wealth households; in fact, more than 60 percent of all of Virginia’s proceeds from RGGI help low-wealth communities with either flooding or housing.
That makes a big difference for the entire Commonwealth. Lower utility bills make the biggest difference for people on the tightest incomes. But families with the tightest incomes are often those who live in houses that are in the roughest shape. That means many of the families that would most benefit from cutting their electricity bills are not eligible for energy efficiency improvements, because the housing they live in is not in any condition to be weatherized.
That was the case for the Collins, whose failing roof compromised their entire home.
“We had to wait for the roof,” explains Bert, “before we could do insulation.”
Repairs took on even more urgency when Lisa’s mother moved in with the couple and their two dogs, Maggie and Millie. Lisa, who recently fought a battle with leukemia, worried about keeping her elderly mother warm and dry through the winter.
“With cold weather, you should do what we did,” Lisa says. “It helps reduce the juice bill, keeps the cold air out: you don’t have drafts in the house. It’s done wonders.”
Thanks to Virginia’s participation in RGGI, a weatherization company in southwest Virginia had funds to install a new roof on the Collins’ home, then put in new insulation, a new window, two new doors, a water heater, a new heat pump, and even a new refrigerator.
“Our heat bill was so high, it was astronomical,” recalls Lisa. “With the heat pump, and with the insulation, it’s cut it down quite a bit.”
In fact, a peek at the Collins’ latest utility bill shows that may be an understatement: the Collins’ monthly bill has dropped from an average of $330 last winter to just $112 a month.
“They knew what they were doing. They did fine work,” says Bert. “Those boys did fine work.”
Thanks to Virginia’s participation in RGGI, half of the $378 million that the program has already delivered to the Commonwealth is devoted to helping families like the Collins reduce energy bills and construct highly efficient affordable housing units.
Just last month, the latest RGGI auction delivered $76.4 million for both housing and flood resilience measures.
Virginia has long been a leader in the South, and programs like the ones deploying RGGI funds make it easy to see why. In just the first fiscal year of RGGI funding, the construction company that worked on the Collins’ home anticipates being able to unlock weatherization potential for nearly 1,000 more households than it was already serving.
“Everything [the weatherizer] does is not only for the house to look better, but for the house to be more efficient,” says Lisa. “It’s taking back control from the power company.”
Thanks to RGGI funding, a growing number of families across Virginia will now be able to do the same.
More RGGI success stories from Virginia
In the state’s Northwest corner, Winchester isn’t the first place you think of flooding, but waterways running through downtown do just that. Now RGGI funding is finally helping.Learn More
In Christiansburg, RGGI funding is helping to add insulation to drafty homes as one of many tools used to cut down residents’ power bills.LEARN MORE