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Energy-Efficient Updates Needed for MN's Aging Homes


Wednesday, April 27, 2022   

A significant portion of Minnesota housing was built before 1980, and these homes just endured a long and cold winter. That's renewed calls for the state to use as many weatherization resources as possible.

These programs are aligned with energy-assistance funding for low-income households. Upgrades range from reducing air leakage to furnace repairs. Proposed legislation would allow Minnesota to cover matching federal weatherization funds, and there's pre-weatherization funding to help homes correct issues before the upgrades can move forward.

Mari Ojeda, senior policy associate for energy access and equity with the group Fresh Energy, said crews encounter that too often.

"Mold, asbestos - things like that, that really are problematic for coming into someone's house," she said, "and have to defer the services because they need to address the health and safety issues first."

That means many eligible households are left waiting to reduce their energy burden. It's a particular problem in several rural Minnesota counties, where at least 80% of the housing stock is more than 40 years old.

At the State Capitol, House lawmakers are pushing to expand weatherization funding but the House and Senate remain far apart on larger energy spending bills.

Jon Fabre, supervisor of marketing programs for Otter Tail Power, said his company is a big believer in weatherization, and that these programs have evolved into a more scientific approach. With higher gas-heating costs, he said, it's another way to prevent customers from falling behind on their monthly payments.

"Utilities do well when our customers do well," he said. "We recognize that, and we feel it's just the right thing to do. We're in the business of selling energy, and we want our customers to use that energy as economically as possible to their advantage."

Ojeda said it's important to remember weatherization also can help reduce energy burdens for marginalized residents living in multi-family rental units.

"The energy burden, which is a percentage of one's income that they are spending on energy bills, is four times higher for low-income customers than for the average statewide household," she said.

Disclosure: Fresh Energy contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, Environment, Environmental Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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