Examples:

Efficiency Maine Home Energy Savings Program
and Affordable Heat Initiative

Efficiency Maine, the statewide administrator for energy efficiency programs in Maine, has been working to lower the barriers to energy efficiency for Mainers through creative and innovative program designs. Through its Home Energy Savings Program and Affordable Heat Initiative, Efficiency Maine provides rebates and loans to encourage Maine residents to make their homes more energy efficient. These programs are designed to be accessible to Mainers across the entire state and to make weatherization and energy efficiency upgrades more affordable to residents of all income levels.

Efficiency Maine has used funding from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and other sources to ensure that the support for this program has remained relatively stable from year to year. This stability has helped the state build a strong network of home performance contractors operating in most parts of the state.


Bridget Doxsee
Program Manager for Low Income Initiatives
Efficiency Maine

"It is all housed within Efficiency Maine to find cost-effective programming to deliver efficiency incentives to Maine households. Efficiency Maine administers those funds in lots of different ways… we’ve got incentives and rebates available for people to choose the highest efficiency installation. When people are doing an installation or a retrofit, we really want to compel them to go with the most efficient option possible."

How it works

Efficiency Maine’s Home Energy Savings Program (HESP) offers rebates for energy assessments and air sealing, insulation, and efficient heating systems which help lower the cost of efficiency upgrades for Maine residents regardless of income. The Affordable Heat Initiative (AHI) provides enhanced rebates for low-income households and residents of mobile homes. Unlike some other states, Efficiency Maine allows program participants to choose to make efficiency upgrades either all at once as part of one comprehensive weatherization project, or to install upgrades in stages with a rebate for each stage. This makes the programs more accessible to more Mainers across the income spectrum. For example, a homeowner can choose to start with an energy assessment and basic air sealing for as little as $200 with a HESP rebate or as little as $50 with an AHI rebate. Participants can then make additional updates including insulating basements, walls, or attics or installing efficient heating systems as their budget allows.

Implementation

The Home Energy Savings Program provides rebates for single-family primary residences and one-to-four unit rental homes. Participants are required to conduct an energy assessment and install basic air sealing measures to access insulation rebates. For more information, visit the Efficiency Maine Home Energy Savings Program page.

The Affordable Heat Initiative provides enhanced rebates for owner-occupied single-family and two-unit homes, condominiums and mobile homes. Efficiency Maine has worked to develop eligibility criteria that make the program accessible to as many low-income homes as possible. For example, the eligibility criteria include any owner-occupied mobile home and any owner-occupied home with a combined building and land assessed value of $80,000 or less. For more information on the Affordable Heat Initiative and other low-cost and no-cost energy options for eligible homes, visit the Efficiency Maine Low Income Weatherization, Heating, and Water Heating Rebate page.

Challenges

Efficiency Maine advertises primarily through digital channels including its website and ads on Hulu, Pandora, and other streaming services. Advertising through these channels may be an effective way to market to much of the state, but many residents of rural areas lack access to high-speed internet and may not be reached by online marketing. Similarly, Efficiency Maine relies on weatherization contractors to market their rebate programs to their customers, but in rural communities where there aren’t contractors marketing their services, residents often do not know that these resources are available.

For these reasons, community-based weatherization initiatives like Weatherization Weeks and Weatherize campaigns can be effective ways to boost awareness and address some of the geographic barriers to energy efficiency in rural places.

Outcomes

In the 2017 fiscal, HESP provided rebates for more than 7,500 energy efficiency projects around the state resulting in more than $25 million in lifetime energy savings. In the same year, AHI supported more than 500 projects with lifetime energy savings of more than $3.8 million.

Resources

To learn more about the Rural Efficiency Gap project and watch our videos on the subject, visit this link. You can also read more in our white paper.

Weatherize Upper Valley

The Upper Valley region is a rural area situated in between the major population centers of Concord, New Hampshire, and Burlington, Vermont. Vital Communities, a community nonprofit based in White River Junction, Vermont, realized that the uptake of energy efficiency in the region was slowed by a set of barriers that were distinct from those in more populated areas of the state.

To address this, Vital Communities started a program called Weatherize Upper Valley.

Challenges Addressed by Weatherize Upper Valley

Workforce availability
There were few contractors certified to work with the state’s Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program operating in the region, and contractors from other areas were not usually advertising in the Upper Valley.

Limited awareness
Even if people were aware of the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program, some homeowners did not think they would qualify because their house was built recently; and therefore, they believed it was already energy efficient. Others thought their home was too old to be worth weatherizing, and some people didn’t think they could afford it.

Furthermore, unlike other home improvements, weatherization isn’t visible from a home’s exterior. If a homeowner builds a new fence or installs solar panels on their roof, their neighbors are more likely to see that and might be inspired to do the same. Insulation and other weatherization procedures are not obvious from the outside and don’t necessarily spark the same kinds of conversations among neighbors.

Skepticism of existing resources
Like many people, residents of rural areas can be hesitant to allow contractors they don’t know perform work on their homes. Many of the contractors involved were from several hours away, so trust was a potential barrier. Some residents of the Upper Valley were also skeptical of programs run by their local electric utility, were reluctant to accept “handouts,” or were hesitant to take on debt to make energy upgrades with uncertain savings.

How it works

Weatherize Upper Valley addresses common barriers to rural energy efficiency by taking a regional approach. Instead of addressing weatherization home by home, the program promotes a regional approach to energy efficiency and creates economies of scale in places where they wouldn’t otherwise exist.

The design and implementation of Weatherize Upper Valley addresses the absence of marketing by contractors and the limited awareness by using the local volunteers and other trusted local sources of information. Vital Communities coordinates with local volunteers, connecting them with qualified contractors and empowering them to lead outreach efforts in their communities.

Implementation

Coordinating with contractors and local volunteers
Vital Communities connects contractors and local volunteers to coordinate outreach and communication with participants in the program. Contractors apply to participate in the program through an open application process. The program provides free marketing and lead generation to the contractors in return for their willingness to serve customers in a new location and offer consistent pricing and discounted energy audits.

The organization recruits teams of local volunteers (e.g., energy committees, municipal leaders) through town meetings and discussions about community needs. Local volunteers spearhead outreach to their neighbors through grassroots marketing including lawn signs, banners, advertising in local papers, and tabling in community common areas like the town transfer station.

Through regular calls with the volunteer teams and participating contractors, they help ensure that work is progressing in a timely way and resolve any issues that may arise. Vital Communities also found that when marketing comes from a trusted source, neighbors are more willing to participate, and that clear and consistent communication between volunteers and contractors is also key to the success of the program.

Leveraging available resources
Weatherize Upper Valley makes use of the incentives available through the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR programs in Vermont and New Hampshire to lower to cost of efficiency upgrades. Contractors selected to participate in Weatherize are registered to participate in these rebate programs, and they certified in building science and weatherization principles.

Aggregating demand
Aggregating demand in a particular time frame and geography was ideal for the contractors.

Sarah Brock
Energy Program Manager
Weatherize Upper Valley

"In Northern New England, and specifically in my little corner of Vermont and New Hampshire, the rural efficiency gap is a reflection of what makes our communities so unique. These are small towns. They’re self-reliant towns. They are wary of slick programs swooping in from the state or federal level. And they don’t have immediate access to the programs and the contractors and the resources that their neighbors in the more urban settings have.

So, if we’re going to achieve our energy goals in our rural communities and help these communities achieve their goals of self-reliance, we’ve got to take a small-town approach. It’s neighbor-to-neighbor. It’s a process of building trust. It’s helping the contractors and the program leaders become savvy in how to earn the trust of small communities. And once we do that, I believe that we can close the rural efficiency gap, I think energy efficiency and demand for energy efficiency can spread like wild fire across northern rural New England."

Impacts and Outcomes

  • The impacts of the Weatherize Upper Valley program are impressive. In the first year of the program, pilot Weatherize campaigns in 14 Vermont towns resulted in 100 weatherization projects in just six months, an increase of 40% above their historic annual average.
     
  • Weatherize Upper Valley Initial Results :
    • Two years (2017 and 2018)
    • 25 towns
    • 84 volunteers
    • 468 home visits with partner contractors
    • 206 homes weatherized directly through the program
    • Dozens more weatherized in neighboring towns or in later months inspired by the efforts of Weatherize Upper Valley.
       
  • Vital Communities is hosting another round of campaigns in the Upper Valley for the Winter of 2018-19.
     
  • Communities in New Hampshire's North Country are launching Weatherize campaigns on their own with coaching and resources from Vital Communities.
     
  • A Weatherize Toolkit is in development for 2019 to help more communities replicate the success of this program.
     
  • Vital Communities is also building on the success of Weatherize to help new home buyers prioritize weatherization within their first year of home ownership through the Upper Valley Green Real Estate Network.

Resources

To learn more about the Rural Efficiency Gap project and watch our videos on the subject, visit this link. You can also read more in our white paper.

Weatherization Weeks

Many Maine island homes are old, drafty, and hard to heat during the cold winter. Reducing drafts, improving insulation, and making other small changes can reduce heating bills by hundreds of dollars per year. However, paying for an energy efficiency contractor to make a multi-day trip to weatherize an island or remote coastal home is often prohibitively expensive.

The Island Institute developed a “Weatherization Week” model to make weatherization of island homes easy and affordable and provided the initial coordination support for the program. Community members on several Maine islands have adapted the Weatherization Week model and continue to weatherize homes every year without Island Institute support.

How it works

Weatherization Weeks enable six to ten island homes to receive a professional home energy assessment and basic insulation and air sealing work at a reduced cost over the course of a week. Homeowners pay between $200 and $400 for the home energy assessment (utilizing Efficiency Maine's Home Energy Savings Program) and six man-hours of insulation and air sealing. While this work would normally cost a homeowner between $700 and $1,000, plus the cost of bringing a certified energy advisor and weatherization supplies to the island, Efficiency Maine covers $400 towards the cost of the work, and the Island Institute helps cover the cost of transportation and housing so that the cost to island participants is at parity with those on the mainland.

If contractors aren’t marketing to your small town, remote village, or island communities, then you’re not going to know about the programs that are available: the rebates and the loans. The Weatherization Weeks model and the idea of community-based energy efficiency addresses that barrier.

The communities that the Island Institute works with have really embraced this idea of doing energy efficiency at scale. Rural communities are very tight knit—people care about their neighbors, and they’re familiar with the idea that if you want to get something done, then strength in numbers is the way to do it.

For example, Monhegan Island is an island of about 50 year-round people, and residents are familiar with the concept of going in together on the cost of a barge to bring vehicles or supplies out. That idea of working together as a community to weatherize homes—to make people warmer and lower energy costs—is something that really resonates in rural places.


Brooks Winner
Island Institute

"We started to notice the rural efficiency gap through our work with island communities here in Maine. We realized that there were programs for weatherizing homes and doing energy efficiency that were not reaching island communities. When you live on an island or in a rural community, your energy costs are higher but there are also higher barriers to accessing resources for doing energy efficiency work in your home.

To address that, we partnered with affordable housing organizations, local energy committees, and municipalities, to coordinate community-scale energy efficiency campaigns we called Weatherization Weeks. The idea was to work with local partners to get together as many residents – as many homes as we could – and find a contractor willing to go out there to serve that critical mass of customers and do as much work over the course of the week as possible."

Challenges

It’s helpful to do the audit and initial weatherization work during the same trip. Recommendations from an audit can easily be dismissed or forgotten if it’s challenging or expensive to bring a contractor back to complete the work.

However, trying to do a huge amount of weatherization work at once is too overwhelming and expensive. Experience has shown that installing insulation and performing low-cost basic air sealing is a comfortable starting place. In our experience, 30% of homeowners have gone on to complete further weatherization after observing results for a winter or two, and local coordination supports a return visit from the contractor.

Implementation steps

  • A community coordinator recruits residents interested in weatherizing their homes.
  • Once several clients are lined up, the coordinator arranges for a certified contractor to travel to the island and stay for several days, grouping all of the work into a short time frame to minimize travel costs to and from a remote location.
  • In Maine, Efficiency Maine covers $400 of the cost, and the Island Institute, through the support of its donors, helps provide transportation and housing for the contractor, further reducing the expense to each homeowner.
  • Individual homeowners are responsible for paying the contractor for services rendered.
  • The community coordinator follows up with the contractor and participating homeowners to gauge interest in a follow trip to perform "next step" upgrades for homeowners that are new to the program. Additional trips are planned—usually 6-18 months after the initial trip. 
  • Program impact data is collected from the contractor and residents to understand community-level impacts, as well as the experiences of both the customer and the contractor. Adjustments are made to the program when necessary.

Outcomes

Prior to Weatherization Weeks, only a handful of Maine island homes had participated in Efficiency Maine’s weatherization rebate programs. Since the first Weatherization Week in 2012, more than 400 island homes have participated, collectively saving more than $125,000 per year.

Resources

To learn more about the Rural Efficiency Gap project and watch our videos on the subject, visit this link. You can also read more in our white paper.
Examples:

RurAL CAP's Energy Wise Program

All rural areas face some level of remoteness, but Alaska’s experience of remote greatly differs from that of Maine, Vermont, or New Hampshire. Many Alaskan villages are accessible only by plane or boat which often makes transport remarkably expensive, adding costs to goods and services including heating fuel, weatherization materials, and contractors. As a result, Alaskan villages experience some of the most acute energy efficiency challenges in the U.S., requiring efficiency project implementers to use creative solutions to address these barriers. Energy Wise, an initiative run by RurAL CAP (Rural Alaska Community Action Program) from 2011 to 2013, is an example of how to tackle the challenges of remoteness by addressing the high cost and difficulty of transporting contractors, equipment, and supplies.

How it works

Energy Wise addressed the problem of remoteness by recruiting volunteers from rural villages, flying them to the closest population hub, and training them in energy efficiency work. The trainees became the trainers when they returned to their villages. They hired local workers to join the weatherization team and trained them. Following an outreach campaign, which usually included an energy fair, the teams would complete as much weatherization work in their villages as possible. Volunteers also shared energy conservation techniques—such as installing LED lightbulbs and cleaning refrigerator coils—with participants as they conducted their home energy assessments, empowering residents to maximize their energy savings beyond the crew's visit. 

Implementation 

RurAL CAP prioritized villages which had not been recently served by other weatherization programs. They started by building relationships with local government officials and then collaborated to review plans and confirm interest in participation. Project partners met with residents to assess their needs.

The local crew leader was identified and traveled to a city or hub community where they participated in a training program with other crew leaders. Through the program, crew leaders built a network of support and gained professional training and certification. After the training program, the crew leader returned to his or her village to hire a local crew, and the crew was trained within the village. A RurAL CAP project coordinator helped prepare the crew to conduct weatherization visits.

Communities hosted energy fairs using the “Booth in a Bucket” model developed by RurAL CAP and the Alaska Energy Authority to build interest within the villages and to educate homeowners on the benefits of energy efficiency. Supply lists were compiled and vendors submitted bids. The supplies were shipped to RurAL CAP’s office and were consolidated to make for easier delivery to villages. Once the supplies had arrived, the crew performed the weatherization work in the village, aiming for 100% participation.


 

Katie Conway
Alaska Energy Authority

“(The energy efficiency) teams would split up and go door to door hitting as many of the homes in the community as time and money allowed doing a light energy assessment and light energy improvements as well. Some of those improvements would have been changing out light bulbs installing a programmable thermostat... sealing windows. Really low hanging fruit, but it made a difference.”

Challenges

Energy efficiency is just one of many household challenges facing residents of remote Alaskan villages. Weatherization outreach efforts must take these other challenges into account, and help residents understand how it’s possible to make improvements that will provide long-term benefits while simultaneously addressing other short-term needs.

Outcomes

  • Six communities and 589 homes were served in the 2011-12 fiscal year. 
  • Five communities and 492 homes were served in the 2012-13 fiscal year. 
  • 70 local individuals were trained in energy efficiency work. 
  • On average, the participants saved $240 a year on their energy bills.

Resources

To learn more about the Rural Efficiency Gap project and watch our videos on the subject, visit this link. You can also read more in our white paper.