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Orange County project helps homeowners with energy efficiency upgrades

Celeste Gracia
Anissa McLendon stands in front of her home in Carrboro on Feb. 15, 2023. Contractors recently installed weather strips around her front and back door and insulation in her attic and crawl space.

Anissa McLendon lives in a modest, fuchsia colored house in Carrboro. A couple of months ago, she got some home improvements installed, including a weather strip around her front door.

"I know by standing there with the door closed — difference," McLendon said, nodding her head confidently.

McLendon is on a fixed income right now, so this really helped her out. Her most recent energy bill was about $25 cheaper than usual.

"A lot of the people that we have here [in my neighborhood] also are senior citizens, and they’re on a fixed income too," McLendon said.

Celeste Gracia
Rita Joyner, known colloquially as "Dr. J," is a senior clean energy advisor at the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association. She's helping to manage the Neighborhood Energy Resiliency Project.

In McLendon’s close-knit neighborhood, everyone knows each other. She goes across the street to check on James Atwater, who shuffles slowly outside to greet her. He wears worn-out slippers and a robe.

Contractors installed a handrail for steps leading to the side entrance door of Atwater’s house. While that’s not necessarily an energy efficiency improvement, it’s an improvement nonetheless. Atwater said the contractors are coming back to install insulation in his attic.

"I really appreciate all this work they’re doing," Atwater said with a smile.

All these energy efficiency upgrades were provided for free thanks to the Neighborhood Energy Resiliency Project. Energy efficiency is defined as the use of less energy to produce the same result. It’s widely seen as one of the easiest ways to fight climate change and reduce energy costs.

The initiative has $160,000 in funding from Orange County, Coastal Credit Union, and the American Rescue Plan Act, a bill Congress passed in 2021 to help address the COVID-19 pandemic. The project is being administered by the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA).

Rita Joyner, a senior clean energy advisor with NCSEA, explained that for many of these homeowners, upgrading their homes is simply not a priority.

"A lot of these people are in a position where they wouldn’t have the funding because it’s not a primary source for them to take their funding to ... retrofit their homes because [of] inflation and [the rising] cost [of living]," Joyner said.

NCSEA Project Manager Daniel Pate said this initiative is focused on helping homeowners whose income is 200% of the federal poverty level. He adds that the significance of energy efficiency can often be overlooked.

"A lot of what people need nowadays is just a home retrofit or improvements in the home to reduce energy usage," Pate said.

He described energy efficiency as a low-hanging fruit when it comes to North Carolina’s transition to clean energy.

"They say the cleanest energy is the energy you don’t use," Pate said.

Planning for this project started last spring and contractors began upgrading homes in December. Around two dozen homes in Carrboro are expected to get improvements. The project could wrap up as soon as this summer.

"I am elated for the homeowners and participants in the program because this project is something that is replicable. So to get positive feedback from the participants is going to speak volumes whenever there’s an opportunity to replicate this," Joyner said.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to accurately reflect the finances of this project.

Celeste Gracia covers the environment for WUNC. She has been at the station since September 2019 and started off as morning producer.
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