UC Santa Cruz’s Energy Service Corps is on a mission to keep homes a little warmer this winter
It’s been a cold and wet winter so far here in Santa Cruz. The outside chill generally prompts an expensive habit of cranking the heater, but, this year, two UC Santa Cruz students are leading the switch to a greener and cheaper option for staying toasty.
On Nov. 18, Adan Codina and Adrienne Borders held a press conference in front of the Boys & Girls Club on Center Street to announce the launch of the student-operated Energy Service Corps (ESC) program, which will offer home weatherizations to hundreds of local homes.
“The goal of Energy Service Corps is pretty simple,” says Borders, co-coordinator of the local ESC branch along with Codina. “It’s to reduce energy used by taking the mystery out of energy efficiency.”
ESC is a new statewide program designed to recruit and train college students to go into their communities and perform free energy audits and home weatherizations. The program is a joint effort between the California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) and Americorps.
“We have really large goals here at Energy Service Corps,” says Codina. “Over the next nine months we plan to perform over 250 weatherizations and energy audits upon community buildings.”
Energy audits consist of surveying a building and asking the owner or inhabitants simple questions such as whether they unplug appliances when they’re not in use or if they use powers strips as opposed to outlets. ESC says these small habits can make a big difference over time. Adjustments like weather striping doors and windows or putting foam insulate over pipes can also greatly reduce the amount of heat being lost and further decrease energy used. ESC members assess a building’s energy efficiency, make suggestions, and then proceed to weatherize the building.
“There are a lot of simple things people can do to reduce their energy use,” says Borders. “At a time when people are trying to decide between putting food on the table and paying utility bills, we’re really excited to show people how easy and affordable energy efficiency can be.”
These simple steps can make an especially big difference to low-income families who, according to California Department of Community Services and Development information, spend an average of 14 percent of their income on energy bills (compared to the overall average of 3.5 percent). Considering weatherization can reduce energy bills by up to 30 percent, according to Codina, this could especially help to offset costs for low-income families.
One of the better known advocates of weatherization is Vice President Joe Biden, who quipped "investing in weatherization is a no-brainer” at a press conference in Manchester, N.H. in August of this year. Biden is one of the biggest supporters of the federal Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) originally established in 1976.
“If we keep up the current weatherization pace [since 2009], we’ll lessen our dependence on foreign oil by 1.5 million barrels, the equivalent of going out, waving a wand and taking 107,000 automobiles off the road permanently, and saving consumers a lot of money," he said.
The environmental benefits of weatherization do appear to be just as important as the financial ones. According to the WAP website (weatherize.org), basic weatherization reduces carbon dioxide output by nearly one metric ton annually per home. This, combined with reducing the strain on local power plants, could create a positive paradox over time: keeping your house warmer may help keep the Earth cooler by reducing global warming.
“Though no one issue will solve the energy crisis in America, the issue of people weatherizing their homes is a big piece of it actually,” said Mike Rotkin, outgoing Santa Cruz Mayor, at the ESC press conference. “This is something people can do right in their homes, and fortunately weatherization is something that actually saves people money.”
The economic impact of weatherization isn’t restricted only to those receiving it directly. WAP figures show that in addition to returning $1.83 in energy savings directly to the homeowner ,that $2.69 in energy and non-energy related benefits are returned to the community for every dollar spent on weatherizing.
Rotkin added that he hopes the ESC program will be longer lasting than previous attempts to make Santa Ctuz homes energy efficient. “We’ve had a couple of things like this in the past but a lot of them have not been sustained,” he said. “We’re hoping this program will be ongoing. I thank these students for working on this project, I think it’s going to be really good for our city.”
There are other weatherization programs in the area as well, notably those offered by Central Coast Energy Services (CCES). CCES has been weatherizing homes in California for 30 years, receiving large sums of government grant money along with a mandatory quota of homes to weatherize. But ESC differs from other programs in that it is run by college students like Borders and Codina, although they are overseen by state and nationwide groups. As students themselves, they intend to focus on education as part of their service to the community as much as weatherization. Holding their first press conference at the Boys & Girls Club was, they say, symbolic of their educational goals.
“We plan to go to dozens of schools in the community and actually reach over 2,000 students,” says Codina.
And that’s just in the Santa Cruz area. ESC is a statewide initiative, and will
be implementing similar programs throughout California.
Katie Roper is a CALPIRG campus organizer working with Borders and Codina to get the Santa Cruz branch of ESC started. She is especially excited about this part of the program.
“One of the things we’ll be doing is a spring break energy trip—we’re going to do a week long trip down the coast teaching students all week long at different elementary schools,” says Roper.
ESC’s vision for educating children on the benefits of saving energy (and the consequences of wasting it) is something of a two-part strategy. On the one hand, energy-conscious children grow up to be energy responsible adults. Teaching children about the environmental and economic benefits of saving energy is tantamount to making an investment for the future. But there is also a more immediate impact that members of ESC and CALPIRG are hoping for: that children will pressure their parents to create better habits. Program organizers are banking on the idea that when a child asks a parent to do something they might already feel guilty about not doing (i.e. buying halogen light bulbs), those parents might find it hard to say no.
Roper has done similar work in New Jersey, organizing community weatherizing initiatives through colleges that were met with a lot of success after a relatively slow start-up period.
“We want the community to know [about this],” she says. “We have a ton of students at UCSC and Cabrillo that want to do this.”
Perhaps the most appealing thing about having one’s home weatherized is that, in this case, it’s absolutely free.
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