Why this year’s ENERGY STAR award is so important to us

April 13, 2021 | 4 min read
Carol Weston | Director

ENERGY STAR® recently announced the 2021 ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year Award for Sustained Excellence. ENERGY STAR recognized Efficiency Vermont for “successfully adapting ENERGY STAR certified products, homes, and Home Performance with ENERGY STAR programs to reach more low- to moderate-income customers during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

This is the sixth consecutive Partner of the Year award for Efficiency Vermont. But this year's award might be the most meaningful we’ve ever received.

As I step into the role of Director of Efficiency Vermont, I’m heading into my second decade at Efficiency Vermont. I’ve worn a lot of hats over that ten-year period. Most recently, I was the Director of Operations, overseeing Efficiency Vermont’s budgets and programs. That often boils down to deciding which programs are going to have the most impact with the budget that we have.

As the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, we realized that we needed to do what we could to help more Vermonters weather the economic shutdown. Many low- and moderate-income Vermonters lost work. Food insecurity was at an all-time high. And more families were at home, making it likely that home energy bills would increase.

I’m a lifelong Vermonter. I know Vermonters are resilient (thanks to long, cold winters). But the COVID-19 pandemic was a test for even our brave little state. So we worked to bolster that resilience in whatever ways we could. In a matter of weeks, we redesigned our offers to focus on hard-hit businesses and low- and moderate-income Vermonters. Our goal was to reduce or delay the upfront cost of efficiency investments. We knew this would help lower ongoing energy costs for years to come.

For low- and moderate-income Vermonters, we increased incentives for comprehensive weatherization. Households could receive 75% of upfront project costs back, up to $5,500. More than 1000 households completed a comprehensive weatherization project. Almost 60% of the projects were moderate-income households. These households were also eligible for no-interest financing through our Home Energy Loan. Over the summer of 2020, we offered to cover the first six months of those loan payments. Almost 500 low- and moderate-income families took a Home Energy Loan. As a result, they will see the benefits from their energy improvements faster.

With families at home, dehumidifiers, air conditioners, and air purifiers helped with healthy indoor air. Rebate bonuses on efficient ENERGY STAR products helped families improve the health and safety of their homes. Vermonters also turned to their gardens and local farms for fresh, local food. We added a bonus for indoor grow lights for seed starting and second freezers for food storage. More than 500 income-eligible families received the $50 bonus on these healthy home products.

The non-profit sector is a cornerstone of public service and benefit. In 2020, we knew they could need help as well. We reached out to the non-profits that provide critical services to Vermonters. Organizations like food shelves, shelters, family centers, community health & substance abuse programs, and racial and social justice organizations led community response during the pandemic. Efficiency Vermont helped fifty non-profits upgrade to ENERGY STAR appliances at a fraction of the upfront cost. The benefits of this program will help every Vermonter served now and in the future.

“I’m thankful for ENERGY STAR for helping us deliver efficiency to Vermonters. And I appreciate their recognition of how 2020 required us to do more to deliver efficiency to those who need it the most. I know this year’s award will always hold special meaning.”

And we are learning from 2020 to do even more in 2021. We’re also re-launching targeted outreach to low-income Vermonters to help reduce their energy bills. Later this year, we’re expanding our outreach to renters to help this underserved segment of our population experience the benefits of a more efficient home.

We’re continuing to partner closely with businesses to help support efficiency investments that go right to the bottom line. Large businesses can benefit from improving the controls that manage the heating, cooling, and ventilation systems. Improved controls can boost energy efficiency and comfort while lowering costs. Our experts will provide guidance and technical support to find the most value for the business.

For businesses with refrigeration (like restaurants and breweries, grocery and convenience stores, schools, hospitals, farms, and more), it makes up a significant portion of their electric bills. We launched a commercial refrigeration program to help increase efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas pollution from refrigerants. A simple refrigeration audit can help pinpoint opportunities for improvement. Efficiency Vermont will cover 80% of the costs for leak detection and repair.

I am grateful to all my colleagues at Efficiency Vermont for pulling together to support Vermonters in new and important ways last year. It was a team effort that prioritized the needs of families and the potential benefits of efficiency. As I enter my first month as Director of Efficiency Vermont, I am excited to build on this foundation to do even more for Vermonters.