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By Elisa Wood

January 10, 2013

The economic premise behind energy efficiency –  that it’s cheaper to save a unit of energy than to make one – has caught on in the US.  Energy efficiency spending is up, and our energy use is declining, measured both per capita and per dollar of gross domestic product, according to government figures. 

So it is not surprising to see the year begin with several energy efficiency deals in traditionally responsive markets, as well as some good proposals on how to reach  more elusive customers.

Big deals (or small but interesting)

Here are some of the recent deals that came across my desk.

  • Ameresco, one of the big players in energy services contracting, was out of the gate in early January with two contracts.

First, the Massachusetts-based company signed a  $6.8 million energy performance contract with a housing authority in Fall River, Massachusetts for more than 1,500 housing units. The work includes cogeneration, control and monitoring systems, and upgrades to water, lighting, temperature controls, and mechanical space heat and domestic hot water systems. The housing authority expects to save $13 million over 20 years.

Second, the company struck  a  $5.2 million deal with Austin Energy, the nation’s eighth largest community-owned electric utility. Under an energy performance contract, Ameresco will install a new 24,000-ton-hour chilled water storage system at the utility’s district cooling plant that will shift electricity use to hours when energy is less costly.

  • EnerNOC , which according to a live ticker on its site has saved customers more than $545 million (and counting),  is providing demand response and energy efficiency for the Denver Public Schools. The project includes 24 school buildings that total 4.5 million square feet. The deal comes after Denver Mayor Michael Hancock challenged private building owners, nonprofit organizations, and public schools try to meet President Barack Obama’s push for 20 percent energy savings by  2020 across 1.6 billion square feet of office, industrial, municipal, hospital, university, and school buildings. 
  • World Energy Solutions, a Massachusetts-based energy management services firm with $30 billion in energy, demand response and environmental commodities transactions, installed Telkonet’s EcoInsight thermostats in 187 assisted-living apartments in the state. The thermostats are the first step toward introducing a more sophisticated energy management system.
  • American DG Energy began operating two 75-kW combined heat and power (CHP) plants at the Cumberland County Jail in Portland, Maine, under a $2.4 million deal over 15 years. The company uses a business model that it calls On-site Utility, in which  American DG Energy owns and operates CHP units, and the jail pays only for the energy it uses. American DG Energy guarantees that the jail will pay less than what its local utilities would charge.

New ideas

Meanwhile, some interesting reports came out around the first of the year that offer ways for energy efficiency companies to reach new or sometimes indifferent customers.

For example, the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Market Transformation Institute has advice on bringing efficiency to multi-family housing. The institute released a report in early January that promotes benchmarking of multi-family housing. Benchmarking provides data on a building’s energy use, the equivalent of a nutritional label for food.  MTI points out various benefits to the approach: It leads to better crafted programs and incentives that encourage owners to make upgrades. The upgrades lead to lower tenant energy bills, create a more comfortable indoor environment, and can give owners better cash flow. In addition, during real estate transactions buyers better understand the building’s energy profile and can value the property accordingly. MTI sees $9 billion in potential energy savings from America’s multifamily buildings.

 “As a general rule, greater transparency is a positive development, helping markets work better all around,” said Julia Stasch, vice president of U.S. programs at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Meanwhile, the Connecticut Fund for the Environment (CFE) and Environment Northeast released a report, found here, on creating successful energy efficiency financing programs for residential customers.

“A well-designed residential energy efficiency financing program can help expand access to capital and smooth the way for increased program participation," said Roger Reynolds, senior attorney for CFE.  "This report indicates that there are a whole host of program design elements that are essential for the success of energy efficiency financing products and, consequently, the programs as a whole."

And last, the Clean Energy and Bond Finance Initiative (CE+BFI) issued a financing model that  leverages bond financing to secure  low cost capital for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

"As the clean energy industry matures and grows, it needs to become less reliant on federal tax credits as the key source of financing," said Lew Milford, President of Clean Energy Group. 

Called Industrial Development Bonds, or IDBs, they provide tax-exempt interest rates to private borrowers who meet certain public benefit requirements. Borrowers must be small- or mid-sized American manufacturers.  

The paper on the IDB model is one of a series published on financing by CE+BFI and intended for give state and local governments. See www.cebfi.org.

Elisa Wood is a long-time energy writer. Subscribe to her free Energy EfficiencyMarkets Newsletter at RealEnergyWriters.com

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