Benham officials have been working on a plan to help residents reduce energy costs through weatherizing their homes.
City officials have been working toward this for several months, with City Manager Roy Silver mentioning it to the city council during its meeting on Jan. 8.
“Kentucky has the fourth lowest utility rates in the nation, but we have one of the highest per household usages because we have an old housing stock,” said Silver back in January. “Most of the electricity we use goes out the windows or the cracks in the foundations and walls.”
Silver explained to the council in January the idea is to provide low or no interest loans to people to be used to upgrade their homes to be more energy efficient. The loan would be paid back by adding a charge to the customers’ utility bills. The overall bill is expected to be less than what participants are currently paying for utilities. Participation would be completely voluntary.
Silver also mentioned an individual would be provided to help with the program at no cost to the city.
Joshua Outsey, Appalachian Fellow with the Highlander Center for Research and Education, is now living in Benham to help get the program started.
“It will be a revolving loan program,” said Outsey. “They will be able to get their home winterized.”
The Highlander Center, based out of New Market, Tenn., has a long history in training and supporting community organizers, said Outsey.
Outsey said he is preparing to go door to door to survey Benham residents about their energy usage. This will provide information that can be used in determining what improvements are needed for their homes.
“That energy retro-fit of their home will include new windows, work to the heating system and just trying to weatherproof the house to make sure it’s comfortable,” said Outsey.
The upgrade will also include items such as insulation and various other upgrades.
“The work that will be done will be based on the need in the home,” said Outsey.
There has already been one home upgraded, which Outsey refers to as a “model” of what the program is hoping to achieve with other dwellings.
“That was Lacey Griffey’s home,” said Outsey. “That helped change her energy usage which lowered her bill.”
Outsey said that although he is slated to live in Benham for one year it may take longer for the project to be completed.
“I do believe the goal is 300 homes that they eventually want to get weatherized,” he said. “People with the highest utility bills are probably going to go first, and out of those the ones with a strong bill paying history will be the ones that will be first chosen.”
Outsey said this is slightly different than a similar program he’s been working on in Knoxville (Tenn.) for the last five years, where the focus was on low to moderate income residents as opposed to Benham’s program being based on the highest utility bills.
Outsey said while the Benham project may take a few years, it is achievable.
“It’s a matter of funding, and it’s a matter of support that we can get,” said Outsey.
Outsey said funding for the program will be sought from private investors. The possibility of grant money will also be investigated.
Joe P. Asher may be reached at 606-573-4510, ext. 1161 or on Twitter #joe_hde