State has federally-funded grant program ready
By Michael Bielawski
[Editor’s note: Peter Walke’s job title has been corrected since the first edition this morning.]
With a nationwide movement driven largely by climate change-related initiatives, the State of Vermont is offering $20 million in federal ARPA funds (American Rescue Plan Act of 2021) for future upgrades of home electrical panels so that they can withstand the increased electrification of home appliances, heating, cars, and more.
In all, there is $36 million in state and federal funds available to Vermonters for getting heating systems and other appliances that were damaged during the flood replaced. Of that money, more than half is dedicated to electric panel upgrades to accommodate all of the newly anticipated electricity flow.
Matthew Smith, public relations manager for Efficiency Vermont broke down the intended uses for the money in an interview with VDC on Wednesday afternoon.
“And this is roughly $20 million that is again from the federal ARPA program, this is for electric panel upgrades,” Smith said. “That program hasn’t really rolled out yet, we have to work with the electric utilities to make sure that they are able to implement it in their regions.”
Older homeowners who wish to embrace the electrification movement may need to apply for some of this money.
“These old Vermont houses can only take so many electric appliances, these new electric panels would make it so that you could have a heat pump and a washer/dryer and all your other appliances hooked up,” Smith said.
A new water heating technology
Peter Walke, the managing director of Efficiency Vermont, at the governor’s weekly presser on Wednesday detailed more about the $36 million. One new technology is for home water heating systems, a similar technology to the electric heat pumps for warming the air promoted by Efficiency Vermont.
It’s currently unclear if they are as vulnerable to performance issues during big temperature drops as has been sometimes the case with their air-heating counterparts.
“There’s $5 million to help people switch to heat pump hot water systems,” Walke said. There’s another $10 million for heating systems and gas-fired hot water systems.
Smith noted that when it comes to conventional air-heat pump technologies, they do acknowledge that extreme cold temperatures are a concern for the performance of these machines. He added that the condition of the homes they are installed in, in terms of their insulation status, is another important factor.
Rob Roper, former president of the Ethan Allen Institute and current writer for Substack, has written much about the controversies surrounding the performance issues with the air-heating heat pump technology. He wrote the following in March of last year, published at VtDigger.
“But I will tell you recently in the last few weeks I have spent an enormous amount of time on the phone with customers who made the investment to convert a large percentage of their heating needs to cold climate heat pumps, and they were furious.”
Smith says at Efficiency Vermont they are aware of the concerns and they do talk about it with their clients.
“We do recommend to talk to the contractor who’s doing the work for your home,” Smith said. “We always encourage people to get their home weatherized and air-sealed because no matter how you heat your home if you are pumping that air through a leaky roof or an uninsulated attic.”
Smith said homeowners can ultimately seek aid to replace whatever heating systems that were destroyed by the flood. That means if you lost a wood stove, pellet stove, or an oil-based heating system, those can be replaced with some of this money too.
A report out on Monday by BloombergLaw.com suggests that states across the nation states see numerous challenges as they embrace the electrification of home heating.
“States promising to quadruple the current number of heat pumps in the US face shortages of the workers who install the systems, an electric grid that still relies heavily on fossil fuels, and questions about how to best steward millions of federal dollars,” the report states.
The remainder of the $36 million will include $10 million from the state for previously granted weatherization funds which are being redirected for flood relief. Another $1 million in business support is being redirected from previously approved funds by the Public Utility Commission. There will also be $200k from the Agency of Natural Resources for contractor bonuses.
The author is a reporter for the Vermont Daily Chronicle.