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Council hears update on weatherization, appliance program

By William Hoover
Anvil Herald Correspondent

Electric Department Supervisor Larry Arcos on Dec. 8, gave Hondo City Council a progress report regarding the Appliance Assistance Program and the Alamo Area Council of Governments weatherization program. Both programs are available through the city and are intended to help residents conserve energy and save money on their utility bills.

This summer, council voted to authorize adoption of an energy efficiency program for Hondo electric customers. The project includes a $100 rebate program for people who surrender their old appliances to the city in order to purchase an Energy Star appliance.

The other part of the project is to help elderly and disabled residents purchase a new Energy Star appliance if they meet the eligibility guidelines.

The two programs were funded with $100,000 from a half-cent increase in the city’s electric rate. The city decided to see how far the $100,000 would be dispersed before authorizing more funds for the programs.

The programs include:

1) AACOG Weatherization Program: The program provides trained inspectors to evaluate the needs of low-income homes and suggest measures to make the home warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and safe all of the time.

2) Energy Star Rebate Program: A portion of the purchase price of Energy Star efficient appliances will be refunded to the city’s electric department customers, up to $100.

3) Appliance Assistance Program for Special Cases: for elderly, physically impaired and residents on a fixed income, the city will cover the cost of Energy Star appliances up to a predetermined monetary cap.

To qualify for the AAP, residents must have an income below the federally established income guidelines. A detailed list of the eligibility requirements and application may be picked up at the Electric Department or City Hall.

“The objective behind this proposal was to encourage our customers to become more energy-minded and efficient,” Arcos said.

Arcos gave council a status report on each of the options.

“For our Appliance Program, we had 10 applications and 30 inquiries,” said Arcos. “Eight applications are in progress. Two have been completed with purchases made and the recipients are awaiting reimbursement.”

Regarding the weatherization program, Arcos had good news to report. “As of Dec. 1, the city had received 65 applications for the weatherization program,” he said. “Out of the 65, only 41 were able to be processed. But, the other 24 are pending completion because of some kind of documentation that had not been received. One application was disqualified and five applications are pending an assessment by the AACOG weatherization program inspector. At least 32 applicants will have a contractor begin work soon. Three applicants were disqualified because of major roof leaks, poor plumbing or poor wiring.”

According to Arcos, the upgrading of homes and appliances is picking up momentum. The city has a weatherization workshop scheduled the first part of 2010.

Councilman Clyde Haak said he was surprised more people are not taking advantage of the energy conservation programs.

“I don’t think some of the people know if their home will qualify,” said Arcos.

The apparent lack of interest may also be because a lot of people who pay a monthly lease think if they are in a rental unit then they are not eligible for assistance, noted Arcos.

“People are eligible for assistance even if they live in a rental property, if they have permission from the owner,” said Arcos.

He said the city has already picked up and disposed of two refrigerators belonging to residents who turned them in and purchased Energy Star models.

Mayor Jim Danner asked if there was any confusion between the AACOG weatherization program and the appliance program.

“My assistant and I sit down and explain to them what the programs are,” Arcos said. “In the Appliance Assistance program, you do not have to qualify. You can just buy an Energy Star appliance and come to us and you will still get a reimbursement. Some of the Energy Star refrigerators are pretty expensive. That might be why there are not as many applicants in the appliance programs.”

“I talked to Ms. Rose Jackson last week at AACOG,” Danner said. “She said Medina County was only behind Bexar County in the AACOG’s 12 county region regarding progress on the weatherization program. Of course, Hondo is the city driving Medina County’s success so I think you all are doing a pretty good job and you are being recognized at AACOG.”

“If a citizen needs help in meeting criteria, what is the turn around time to get someone an answer?” asked City Manager Robert Herrera.

“It shouldn’t take very long once the appliance is purchased,” Arcos said. “We have to have proof of purchase.”

In response to a question from the mayor, Arcos noted the city is required to pick up the old appliance(s) which the Energy Star appliance is replacing.

“If we don’t pick them up, people will plug them in somewhere else or sell it to someone else,” explained Arcos.

Herrera asked Arcos to inquire with AACOG to see if they provide weatherization services to city buildings owned by a municipality.

Haak asked if the city could give residents vouchers to buy an appliance with city money.

“We do not have a voucher program in place,” said Herrera “We can look at a voucher system and come back at the next council meeting.

“The goal is to help those who are less fortunate save on electricity,” said Herrera. “If the goal is to conserve, the only thing we have to do is ensure when a voucher is given it is written to a store so that the appliance is delivered and everything else falls in place. It is not something we can’t do, but it is something we need to look into with our finance people.”

Haak said he was surprised at the number of people in Hondo living on $800 or less a month from Social Security and other fixed incomes.

“I can understand where the low-income would have a difficult time forking out $700 up front for a refrigerator, so I wonder if we can work on that voucher program and get this moving along,” said Haak.

Councilman Mike Sanchez asked if Herrera would have the voucher program set up by the next council meeting, which will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 12.

Herrera said he would introduce a policy amendment for council to review and, if council is comfortable, they can adopt the voucher policy.

For information on how to apply citizens may contact Megan Rodriguez with the City of Hondo Electric Department at 426-3377.

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