Energy Secretary Granholm’s visit highlights Biden administration’s clean energy agenda • Wisconsin Examiner

Two years ago Cynthia Hirsch and her partner, Brady Williamson, decided it was time to upgrade their century-old craftsman home on Madison’s near West Side to cut down on heating costs.

“It was really cold and really drafty,” said Hirsch, standing at her dining table Thursday morning with U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm. “So we finally decided it was time to just, you know, spend the money and put in new windows.”

As Granholm looked on, Hirsch pointed out the result: new windows in an adjacent room and new windows overlooking the table.

Another window was replaced halfway up the stairs to the second floor. “When you walked up the stairs, at exactly the ninth step, you got hit with this blast,” Hirsch said. “It was quite dramatic. And that’s gone.”

Now warm air rises and doesn’t leak away and the house is drafty no more. “We wanted to do the energy efficient thing — do our part,” Hirsch said. “But  to our delight, our bills are quite a bit lower.”

Granholm’s stop at Hirsch’s home Thursday was part of a swing that the Energy Department secretary took through Wisconsin this week to highlight Biden administration policies.

Wednesday afternoon Granholm delivered a speech in Milwaukee where she name-checked manufacturers of wind turbines, battery components and heat pump compressors, all benefiting from provisions in one or more of the Biden administration’s signature first-term legislation: the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act.

Earlier Thursday, she joined a round table with Gov. Tony Evers, Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and executives of seven manufacturing companies that produce products expected to qualify for federal rebates to be offered later this year under the Inflation Reduction Act. The rebates will be provided to homeowners who replace existing home appliances with more efficient clean energy equipment.

A Wisconsin Conservation Voters yard sign promotes Biden administration clean energy policies. (Wisconsin Examiner photo)

The visit to Hirsch’s home was coordinated with Wisconsin Conservation Voters, where Hirsch is a board member. The advocacy group posted yard signs outside: “President Biden’s Affordable Clean Energy Plan.”

The focus was on the consumer benefits from Inflation Reduction Act tax credits offered for improving household energy efficiency as well as the upcoming rebate programs. Hirsch said she anticipates receiving a tax credit for the window installation project.

Evers, Rhodes-Conway and Democratic Congressman Mark Pocan, whose district includes Madison, accompanied Granholm. For their benefit and that of the surrounding swarm of journalists, Hirsch walked through her bills from Madison Gas and Electric from before and after the window-replacement work was complete.

“So in January of 2023, we paid $377,” Hirsch said. “January of 2024, we paid $332. And this is the most dramatic: In March of 2023, we paid $264. And March of 2024, we paid $149.”

Hirsch allowed that this winter has been much warmer than a year ago. Nevertheless, after using a feature on the MG&E customer website that factors in that difference, “we still paid 2% less [this year], even accounting for weather,” she said. “And it’s a lot more comfortable.”

“Your example for us, for educating people about the importance of weatherizing, is just really important,” Granholm told Hirsch. “People who weatherize, they can save up to 30%, and that’s an amazing amount of savings, right?”

She emphasized other savings available through Inflation Reduction Act — “30% off tax credits for solar, 30% off if you want to buy an electric vehicle charger for your home, $7,500 off if you want to buy an electric vehicle, $4,000 off if you want to buy a used electric vehicle,” Granholm said.

Clean energy rebates

The two rebate programs the federal government is launching, valued at $9 billion, will save households up to $1 billion annually through the installation of clean energy, high-efficiency new appliances such as heat pumps and induction stoves, according to the Department of Energy, and “that will bring a significant amount of savings in terms of efficiency for people,” Granholm said.

The program will be administered by the states; Wisconsin has been allotted $149 million as part of the program.

Granholm reiterated the rebate message several times Thursday: first, when the group in Hirsch’s home moved from the dining room and settled into chairs and couches in the living room for a conversation with conservation advocates, and later for a media gaggle on the porch.

“We want people to know that rebates are coming soon to you if you want to get energy-efficient appliances in your home,” Granholm said.

While homeowners who can afford the cost are able to implement those changes on their own without federal help, she said the legislation was important to ensure greater access to the benefits of cleaner energy appliances and systems.

“For especially people who are significantly energy burdened, finding the funds to be able to do this work upfront is difficult,” Granholm said. “We totally understand this. So that’s why these rebates will be at the point of sale, and it will enable everybody to have access to efficient means to reduce energy in your home without having to pay as much upfront.”

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm chats with Cynthia Hirsch about a Wisconsin Conservation Voters brochure describing federal clean energy policies to help homeowners. (Wisconsin Examiner photo)

During the living room conversation, Kerry Schumann, executive director of Wisconsin Conservation Voters, praised the Inflation Reduction Act, calling it “the biggest investment on the planet and climate action.”

“I appreciate you saying this because it is the largest investment in energy and energy efficiency that we have ever had in the history of this country,” Granholm replied.

Earlier Schumann described the advocacy group’s door to door campaign to tell people about the Inflation Reduction Act and enlist their support for it. Canvassers handed out brochures to homeowners that explained the act’s energy savings provisions and benefits.

“We knocked on 76,000 doors last fall and we’re about to kick off another 100,000,” Schumann said. “And there’s a couple of really important things I think we learned from that.”

Lesson No. 1: Only about one-third of the Wisconsin residents canvassers spoke to had heard of the act, Schumann said.

Lesson No. 2: When their Wisconsin Conservation Voters visitors outlined some of the legislation’s provisions — rebates and tax credits to encourage adopting products and technology that will save energy and reduce carbon emissions —  “the support was through the roof,” Schumann said, with more than 70% of people contacted saying they liked what they heard.

“It didn’t matter if they were Democrats or Republicans,” she added. “They still supported the whole idea of save money, protect the environment.”

Lesson No. 3: “That third who sort of knew about the Inflation Reduction Act” were primed to do more. “Almost 60% of them were thinking about using the program or already were,” Schumann said. “People want to get the benefit and get the tax credits and rebates. … They want to do some good for the environment.”

The bottom line message, she added, is get the word out.

“The programs are great and people want them and we need to keep talking,” Schumann said, “talking to more and more people, letting more and more folks know about it.”



originally published at https%3A%2F%2Fwisconsinexaminer.com%2F2024%2F03%2F29%2Fenergy-secretary-granholms-visit-highlights-biden-administrations-clean-energy-agenda%2F by Erik Gunn

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