Posted by mannytijerina on October 5, 2012 in News
Reporter – San Antonio Business Journal
A project started with stimulus funding to make homes more energy efficient is getting a power boost from CPS Energy.
The city of San Antonio and CPS Energy spent $17 million in federal stimulus funding to make 3,320 homes owned by low-income residents less drafty.
Called Casa Verde, the program got rolling in late 2009. It was successful enough that, when Dallas and other Texas cities fell behind in their weatherization-assistance initiatives, the San Antonio partners won slices of their funding.
The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs had received $326 million under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
“They didn’t want to leave any money on the table,” says Maria Koudouris, the utility’s senior vice president of customer service and gas delivery.
But the funding was nearly gone by February. The program had just $252,000 in the bank.
That’s when CPS stepped in.
CPS is now bankrolling Casa Verde out of its Save for Tomorrow Energy Plan (STEP) funds, collected through utility bills for conservation efforts.
The city-owned utility plans to spend $7 million this year on Casa Verde, and then bump up funding to $17.5 million by fiscal year 2016.
It’ll stay at that level through 2020.
All told, the agency expects to spend $156 million on weatherization, with the aim of saving 771 megawatts by the end of the decade.
That’s equivalent to the output of a power plant, according to CPS.
Work under the renewed program started in late September, with 10 contractors installing weather stripping, caulking, solar screens and fluorescent lights for ratepayers who qualify for the assistance.
During the stimulus-funded phase, M&M Weatherization Co., one of the vendors, hired about 80 employees to keep up with the work load.
“We did bulk up. We had 12 to 15 crews running at any given time,” M&M co-owner Manny Tijerina says. Each crew had as many as four workers.
He estimates that M&M weatherized about 1,000 houses.
But when the program stopped in February, the company had to lay off all but a handful of crew members.
M&M is back as a Casa Verde vendor, and Tijerina expects to hire 50 workers in coming months.
Currently, he’s got four crews that have tackled about 50 homes since Casa Verde restarted.
On the utility’s side, 20 employees hired to run the program — and initially paid with stimulus funds — remain on the job and are now on CPS’ payroll.
CPS isn’t the only entity weatherizing homes for low-income owners.
The Alamo Area Council of Governments (AACOG) is a longtime service provider in Bexar County and 11 neighboring counties that is relying on its fed grant dollars to complete projects.
The two agencies aren’t likely to trip over one another, Koudouris says.
“We’ve got quite a high number of low-income families in San Antonio,” she says, “so there’s enough work for both agencies.”
Casa Verde’s immediate goal is to upgrade 1,600 ratepayers’ homes by next January.
CPS Energy puts STEP dollars into action for Casa Verde
Premium content from San Antonio Business Journal – by Greg Jefferson, Reporter
Date: Friday, October 5, 2012, 5:00am CDT