Opportunities within Minnesota’s plan for federal weatherization funds

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Minnesota’s plan for federal infrastructure dollars must include weatherization for multifamily housing, electrification, and beyond.

Greg Gjerdingen CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), was signed into law by President Biden on November 15, 2021. To access the more than $1 trillion of funding established in the law, states are required to submit plans to the federal government for each category of funding they wish to access across transportation, climate, energy and the environment, and more.

Within the BIL, $6.5 billion is earmarked specifically for energy efficiency and weatherization retrofits for homes, buildings, and communities. State plans to access this specific area of funding are due soon, and Fresh Energy and our partners in the Energy Efficiency for All (EEFA) Coalition and Midwest Building Decarbonization Coalition (Midwest BDC) collaborated on aspects of Minnesota’s Weatherization Assistance Program Grant Application. These plans mark the beginning of the crucial “implementation” phase of the BIL, a top priority for Fresh Energy.

“Fresh Energy is excited to be working with multiple coalitions of partners to ensure that plans for federal Weatherization Assistance Program dollars coming to our state fill equity gaps in Minnesota’s current process,” said Fresh Energy’s Mari Ojeda, senior policy associate, Energy Access and Equity. “It is imperative that these funds go toward prioritizing under-resourced communities and ensuring our multifamily buildings don’t get left behind in the energy transition.”

The Minnesota Department of Commerce is spearheading Minnesota’s state plan for the Weatherization Assistance Program Grant Application and took feedback on the plan through September 19, 2022. Thanks to our coalition partnerships with the EEFA Coalition and Midwest BDC, Fresh Energy engaged in aspects of the plan that focused on weatherization in multifamily housing and electrification.

Weatherization in multifamily housing

Multifamily homes are the least likely type of housing to have energy efficiency upgrades, resulting in higher energy burdens for residents as well as potentially adverse health and safety impacts. Currently, Minnesota’s Weatherization Assistance Program overwhelmingly serves single-family households due to a myriad of challenges for organizations implementing the work including complexity and high costs, lack of certified contractors, longer project timelines, and more. However, within the state’s application for BIL funding, our EEFA Coalition partners and Fresh Energy see an opportunity to address this disparity. In our comments, we emphasized opportunities for Minnesota’s plan to strengthen and grow the state’s current weatherization work by:

  • targeting multifamily buildings in historically underserved communities of color with weatherization funding,
  • providing comprehensive training and workforce development specific to installing weatherization measures in multifamily housing,
  • streamlining multifamily project eligibility and reducing or eliminating the multifamily property owner contribution requirement,
  • advancing strategic electrification, and more.

Electrification and safety

Fuel-switching and electrification offer pathways for greater decarbonization in our buildings, but also in lowering the energy burden for vulnerable communities and improving the health, safety, and efficiency of Minnesota homes. Fresh Energy and our partners at Midwest BDC and the EEFA Coalition have identified that Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding presents a significant opportunity for the state to equitably expand upon its existing electrification and fuel-switching work by supporting the participation of under-resourced residents and affordable housing properties in the transition to electric sooner rather than later.

Electric appliances are crucial for the health and well-being of Weatherization Assistance Program clients, given their lack of fumes and higher efficiencies. Easier access to fuel-switching—e.g. moving from fossil fuel-powered systems to electric ones—would reduce negative long-term health impacts of under-resourced residents, especially those who live in communities that already have disproportionately high air pollution. Our comments emphasized the importance of fuel-switching, health and safety implications, workforce development opportunities, and more.

Additionally, the comments strongly urged the Minnesota Department of Commerce to utilize the federal Justice40 tools and resources to both align with federal expectations and ensure, at a minimum, that 40 percent of the Weatherization Assistance Program dollars benefit “disadvantaged communities,” as defined by the Administration, Minnesota Department of Commerce, and Minnesota community members. Although income is the guiding measure of qualifying Weatherization Assistance Program applicants, it is important to note that other measures contribute to the definition of “disadvantaged communities.” It is essential that the Minnesota Department of Commerce continue to partner with community members in ensuring equitable distribution of Weatherization Assistance Program dollars in alignment with the Justice40 initiative.

What’s next for the federal Weatherization Assistance Grant Application?

State plans for Weatherization Assistance Program Funding in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law were due October 1, 2022, and while the U.S. Department of Energy reviews plans for approval, the Minnesota Department of Commerce will continue to ramp up activities such as procuring contractors, hiring new staff, and scheduling trainings for service providers. Fresh Energy and our partners at Midwest BDC and the EEFA Coalition are looking forward to continuing work with the Minnesota Department of Commerce to help ramp up weatherization and electrification projects for Minnesota’s underserved households. Thoughtful, intentional, state-level planning and implementation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is crucial to ensure that funds coming to Minnesota are distributed where most needed. Fresh Energy looks forward to continuing its engagement in this process as more state plans are created.