A donation of shareholder money from the parent of Maryland's largest utility will help fix aging furnaces for some low-income Baltimore homeowners struggling to pay home heating costs.
Constellation Energy Group has partnered with Baltimore officials to donate $1 million to the Baltimore Community Foundation to replace or repair failing or broken heating systems over three years.
The Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. Heating System Fund piggybacks on weatherization initiatives funded by federal stimulus dollars to install insulation, caulking around windows, water heater blankets and other steps to keep bills in check.
"It helps support our broader initiatives to get customers to appreciate the fact that they can control and influence their energy use," said Mayo A. Shattuck III, chairman, president and chief executive of Constellation Energy.
Older gas furnaces, boilers or heat pumps may be tuned up if possible, but unsafe or nonfunctioning units will be replaced.
"We know that old or inefficient heating systems are often the single biggest contributors to a high heating bill," said Mark D. Case, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.'s senior vice president of strategy and regulatory affairs.
For example, compared to units that are 15 years old or more, newer heat pumps can cut energy use by more than half, Case said.
City officials hope to reach 862 households through weatherization programs, and more than 500 of those are expected to need new furnaces.
Because the money is limited and likely to be in high demand, senior citizens, families with disabilities or children and those with excessive heating costs will be given priority.
People with a household income of 175 percent of the federal poverty level qualify for federal and state aid for utility bills. This year, that's about $38,587.50 for a family of four. Baltimore's weatherization program is now open to residents who earn up to 200 percent of the poverty level, said Cheron Porter, spokeswoman for the Baltimore Department of Housing and Community Development.
"We're opening and casting our net wider with the support of the private sector," Porter said.
Program officials hope to expand eligibility to people who earn up to 60 percent of the median income for the Baltimore metro area, but await approval from the U.S. Department of Energy for that change, she said. The median income for a family of four is $82,100, according to HUD.
These programs are currently open only to homeowners, although next week it will expand to tenants of homes owned by nonprofits such as St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, Porter said. City officials are still working to develop a policy for properties owned by private landlords, she said.
The program will start Nov. 1, Case said. Homeowners can apply for assistance by calling 311.
/p>City workers trained to perform a home energy audit will assess whether homeowners need new heating systems.