By Kristi E. Swartz
Georgia will receive $50 million in federal stimulus money to expand the state’s weatherization program, the U.S. Department of Energy said Friday.
The money — 40 percent of the total stimulus dollars Georgia will get for its weatherization program — will go toward improving the energy efficiency of 13,600 homes over the next three years, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Friday.
The weatherization program — which includes sealing air ducts and adding weather stripping to windows — was set up to help cut utility and gas bills for low-income families. Under the federal stimulus package, the income threshold for free weatherization service to twice the poverty level, up from 125 percent of it.
A family of four must make less than $44,100 to qualify for aid of up to about $6,000.
Georgia is in line to receive $125 million to help with weatherization, the federal energy department said. It received 10 percent to train workers and kick-start the program expansion. If the program continues to operate successfully with Friday’s allotment of $50 million, then the energy department will allocate an additional $60 million.
It is unclear when that money will be doled out.
As part of the stimulus program for weatherization, states may spend up to 20 percent of funds to hire and train workers.
As with every job created with stimulus money, these must be accounted for, said Shane Hix, spokesman for the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority, which oversees the weatherization program.
These jobs — typically called “green” jobs — have been a major focus of the Obama Administration’s $787 billion recovery act package, designed to create or save jobs and help pull the economy out of the toilet.
“It’s mostly been buzz talk lately, but with the recovery package, it’s definitely gotten a lot more attention,” said Steve Foran, a senior consultant at HOK Advance Strategies, a real estate design and consulting firm, which is shifting its focus toward energy-efficient workplaces.
That became more clear on Wednesday when Labor Secretary Hilda Solis announced her agency would make available five stimulus-backed grants, totaling $500 million, for projects that trained workers for green jobs in energy efficiency and renewable energy industries.
Dennis Creech, executive director of Atlanta-based Southface, a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving energy and water, sees opportunity to lead people to new careers as well as create a new market for clean and renewable energy.
“It’s really clear that the stimulus funds are going to be trying to transform the market for clean energy, so there will be a major push for jobs in these fields,” Creech said. “It’s going to require us to train people to know what they are doing out there, and that’s not an online, one-hour tutorial.”
What’s more the jobs are needed to support the fledgling renewable-energy industry, which includes getting electricity from solar, wind and biomass.
“If we do nothing, we’re going to lose our competitive edge,” he said.