Blending Carbon Reductions and Energy Efficient Housing

Hello from the glorious state of Maine in the summer! I am currently interning at Maine State Housing Authority (MaineHousing) and serving as the Carbon Quantification Project Manager.

MaineHousing is an independent state agency that bridges public and private housing finance, combining them to benefit Maine’s low and moderate-income people. (www.mainehousing.org) MaineHousing brings millions of new private and federal housing funds to invest in Maine to create safe, affordable, warm housing. The mission of the Maine State Housing Authority is to assist Maine people to obtain and maintain decent, safe, affordable housing and services suitable to their unique housing needs. In carrying out this mission, MaineHousing will provide leadership, maximize resources, and promote partnerships to develop and implement sound housing policy. MaineHousing works through its many private and public partners to provide programs and services that make decent, safe housing more affordable and accessible to Maine people.

Now, you may be asking yourself, why would a state housing agency have a carbon program? Are state housing agencies across the country making the connection between residential energy use and the potential for carbon emission reductions? How does affordable housing relate to climate change? MaineHousing, along with other housing agencies across the country, deliver weatherization services through the Weatherization Assistance Program sponsored by the Department of Energy. Funding is always limited, and not enough homes are weatherized. For example, in Maine only 1.1% of low-income dwellings are weatherized a year.
By quantifying carbon emission reductions from weatherizing homes, carbon finance, greenhouse gas mitigation and affordable housing become linked. Reducing energy consumption in low-income dwellings lowers the energy burden of the family and makes heating dwellings more affordable. Reducing energy consumption also reduces greenhouse gas emissions. To date, no state-wide weatherization program has incorporated the quantification of the carbon savings that result from weatherizing homes. In an effort to incorporate carbon finance into weatherization programs to expand weatherization services, MaineHousing started the Carbon Quantification Program.
The MaineHousing Carbon Quantification Project was created in 2008 to research the feasibility of generating carbon offset revenue from home energy efficiency retrofit projects. The review found significant opportunities to measure savings and generate emission reductions, but no evidence of a robust methodology associated with a carbon standard needed to actually quantify and monetize the savings. In response, MaineHousing developed the Methodology for the Weatherization of Single Family and Multi-family Dwellings under the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS). The Methodology was approved by two independent validators during a rigorous double approval process required for new Methodologies under the VCS. The publicly available methodology was designed so that diverse programs could generate offsets from energy efficiency retrofits in all residential dwellings types (single family, multi-family, and mobile homes) across all income classes (lower, middle, and upper income).

This summer, I am working closely with several teams to produce the necessary documents to actually generate saleable emission reductions, and implement the carbon quantification components of program operations. The carbon team at MaineHousing consists of me, Steve, the carbon project coordinator, and Dale, the director of MaineHousing. Now that we are into the data-heavy phase, we also work closely with an IT team of consultants who are building a shared energy data repository. We are coordinating with the departments at MaineHousing that administer energy efficiency programs, and they include Energy and Housing Services and Asset Management. Energy and Housing Services oversees low-income weatherization, and Asset Management oversees energy efficiency projects in multi-family buildings within MaineHousing’s portfolio. Additionally, we work with two carbon consultants; Cathy Lee of Lee International, and Sandra Greiner of Climate Focus.

Currently, I am on full-court press to finish the 80+ page project document that outlines how the implementation of the weatherization activities is in accordance with the approved Methodology. Needless to say, things have been fast-paced and slightly hectic since I arrived in early June. Writing the project document and then submitting it for and going through the validation process will be my primary tasks this summer. As part of that process, I also work with Steve to ensure that program operations are continuing smoothly and that the carbon components are being incorporated properly.

A secondary task, but equally exciting, is working with interested parties to promote and expand the Carbon Quantification Project. We are partnering with another state housing agency, an independent non-profit agency, and a Governor’s state program to exchange data and information management strategies relevant to weatherization activities. Concurrently, I disperse information about the project, provide supporting documents and materials to the Director when she attends and presents at housing conferences, and respond to interested parties inquiries.

Recently, the Project members had a press event with Chevrolet to announce Chevy’s intent to purchase carbon emission reductions from MaineHousing’s carbon project. Press coverage can be read here http://www.mainehousing.org/NEWS.aspx?PageCMD=NewsByID&NewsID=502 ; http://www.greenenergymaine.com/news/carbon-offsets-recs-posts/pingree-and-friends-break-ground-mainehousings-weatherization-carbon- ; http://www.newmainetimes.org/articles/2011/06/29/public-private-partnership-utilizes-carbon-credits-winterize-homes/

Overall, I anticipate that the most valuable experiences from this internship will be learning people and task management, and learning how to craft language to communicate clearly and effectively with varying audiences.

Lucy Van Hook
Bard Center for Environmental Policy
M.S. Climate Science and Policy Candidate 2012

About Lucille