Local Energy Alliance Program has Agility of a Business with Impartiality of a Non-Profit
In energy consumer awareness, people don’t often look to their utility to offer impartial information. Or, at least not complete advice in a bill stuffer. Consumers are wary of contractors and manufacturers offering discounts on air conditioners and home comfort systems that already cost $8,000 to $10,000. So how do we unlock the power of people making their own smart energy choices. It seems an organization working with local utilities and showing complete candor as a non-profit entity, can do it right.
Charlottesville-based LEAP, the Local Energy Alliance Program, (www.leap-va.org) has launched a Home Energy Makeover Contest with a grand prize of a $10,000 energy makeover for Northern Virginia homeowners who complete an easy and informative online energy assessment.
LEAP was initially funded by a $500,000 foundation grant from the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance (SEEA) and has since raised $5 million over three years to implement energy improvements in homes, businesses, and low income multifamily properties. Additional funding has come recently from the state energy office to launch programs in Northern Virginia with a first emphasis on Arlington County.
“In central Virginia, we look to complete 1000 retrofits by May 2013 and have already completed over 700,” said Adams. “In northern Virginia, we hope to complete 300 retrofits over the course of the next year.”LEAP works with pre-qualified contractors and channel market partners to make sure homeowners are engaged. If LEAP were a utility offering a rebate program, it would have an entire regulatory process to work through. “One advantage to having an independent third party implement a program like Home Performance with ENERGY STAR, is that we can work with multiple utility rebate programs, but are not ourselves regulated in the same manner. This allows us to innovate, make course corrections on the fly, and develop ways to have the market fund our program’s administrative expenses.”
The LEAP sponsored Home Energy Makeover Contest is a marketing and public outreach campaign whose ultimate goal is to encourage participation in Home Performance with ENERGY STAR (HPwES). HPwES is a one-stop shop for residents wanting to make energy improvements, and getting a HPwES Certificate is like getting an ENERGY STAR for your existing home.
“The Makeover Contest creates motivation,” said Adams. “First you have to understand whether or not you are using more energy than you need to. Then you need a roadmap or plan for what to do about it. To enter the contest, homeowners must complete an easy online energy assessment.” In simple terms, she added: “basically, to enter you have to learn a little about your home.”
The makeover contest ends September 30, and the three winning homes will become case studies to share. Dominion Foundation has teamed with LEAP in offering $10,000 first prize, $5,000 second prize and a $3,000 third prize. LEAP contractors have also agreed to provide cost reduction incentives for those homeowners who did not win but are interested making energy improvements. A Nonprofit Challenge contest within the Makeover Contest encourages community groups to spread the word. Three local nonprofits can win a $1,500 cash donation for bringing the most entries to the contest.
“Improving the affordability of homes is important, but when you use less energy you also conserve resources and reduce pollution,” she said. “Virginia is a capacity short state - our demand for electric power is greater than our ability to supply it in state. To meet that demand companies are building more power plants, but the energy we don’t use is clearly cheaper than the energy we have to create. Energy efficiency can save homeowners money not just in their own homes but also system wide.”
Utilities are required by the State Corporation Commission to prove retrofits work. Virginia legislation allows electric utilities to have cost-recovery and to make a margin on their energy efficiency programs, which helps align an investor owned utility’s goals of providing shareholder value with a public interest goal in saving energy. “There is a desire for rigor on the part of the regulators – as there should be,” said Adams. “While they want to encourage energy savings, they also want to make sure these efficiency programs deliver on the savings ratepayers are helping fund.”
Dominion has new energy efficiency programs that will roll-out this year, which LEAP will also be promoting to its customers. LeHa Anderson, manager of communications at Dominion Virginia Power (www.dom.com), insists that “consumers are absolutely looking for ways to save more money on their energy consumption. Information is coming at them from many different places,” says Anderson. “Trust is very important to them, and consumers want the education.”
Mike Smith is a Washington-area writer who blogs for Energy Central and the Huffington Post