Bringing efficiency to those who need it most
by Rebecca Foster, Director, Efficiency Vermont
I am always grateful for the opportunity to help Vermonters save energy and money. I am particularly excited when we’re able to break down barriers to efficiency and reach new people. A new program, technology, or outreach method can increase access to efficiency. That means we can serve more Vermonters and help make energy more affordable. Of the over 100,000 Vermonters that Efficiency Vermont helped in 2019, these are just three stories that stick with me.
Julie’s Story: Reducing Energy Burden
Julie works seasonally and relies on Social Security benefits from her late husband to get through the months she doesn’t work. While she’d like to retire, she’s still paying off the costs of re-mortgaging the house during her husband’s illness. In the past, she was able to use her woodstove to offset her expensive and inefficient electric resistance system. But, using and maintaining a woodstove is getting harder as she ages.
Julie knew a more efficient and convenient heating system might be able to help keep heating costs down but was unsure about the upfront cost. As winter set in, she decided to reach out and see. It turned out to be worth her time. After a brief conversation with Amanda on our Customer Support team, Julie found out that she was eligible for a home assessment. We partner with the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity (CVOEO) on this service. Ian, an Efficiency Coach with CVOEO, found that this program could cover the cost of a heat pump system and a new, efficient refrigerator for Julie.
Efficiency Vermont has partnered with CVOEO and other Weatherization Agencies across the state to cover the cost of electric efficiency upgrades for ten years. In 2019, we updated this partnership. In the past, Vermonters with high electric use were eligible to receive certain efficient appliances free of charge. The new eligibility criteria increase efficiency access for Vermonters with a high electricity burden. These are families who spend a high percentage of their income on electricity bills. Our 2019 Vermont Energy Burden Report identifies which communities in Vermont face high energy burdens.
“This makes me breathe easier,” Julie shared this fall as she looked over her electric bills, as compared to last year. She is on track to save hundreds of dollars in electricity over the course of the year – for example, she used over 1,000 kWh less in December 2019 than she did in December 2018. Updating the eligibility criteria in 2019 based on energy burden allowed us to provide efficiency services to far more Vermonters like Julie, who would benefit from it the most.
In 2019, we spoke with over 1,500 Vermonters and scheduled them to receive a full home assessment in 2020. In addition, we provided over 1,200 Vermonters with a voucher to replace an appliance or wood stove through a new program. Before these program changes, we served around 350 Vermonters each year with this program. Now, between the two services, we helped almost seven times as many energy-burdened Vermonters than in previous years.
Note: As we work to provide service to all pre-screened eligible customers, we have paused our enrollment for the program until later in 2020. We know we’ve only reached a fraction of Vermonters who could benefit from a program like this, and we look forward to re-opening enrollment.
Ruth’s Story: Providing advice and expertise
Ruth knew that her home needed an efficiency upgrade, but wasn’t sure where to start. She knew she didn’t want to replace her windows, because the high upfront cost likely wouldn’t bring enough energy savings to make up for it. But she was looking for some expert assistance. At a community meeting near her home in Danville, she learned about free home energy consultations to answer the exact kinds of questions she was thinking through. She signed right up.
Efficiency Vermont staff came to Ruth’s home to help. During the visit, Bruce, an Efficiency Vermont Energy Consultant, walked with Ruth through her home, making recommendations about the most cost-effective ways to save energy and money.
Bruce helped Ruth understand more about how weatherization practices have changed since Ruth and her late husband had last weatherized their home in the 1970s. After Bruce shared our Find a Contractor tool, Ruth decided to move forward with Efficiency Excellence Network Member Mark Snyder at VT Energy Audits in nearby Greensboro.
“I appreciated that Bruce wasn’t associated with any particular company. I knew that what he recommended would be unbiased and fact based.”
In 2019, we scheduled over 900 free home energy visits in communities across the state. Each included an in-depth conversation that helped the homeowner understand opportunities for saving energy. In addition to the home visits, we also performed walk-throughs with multifamily property owners to help identify solutions to reduce energy costs for renters and reduce tenant turnover. We’re looking forward to offering more home energy visits as part of our community partnerships in 2020.
Eva’s Story: Stopping the leaks – from a home and bank account
A lifelong Vermonter who grew up going to school in a one room classroom in Guildhall, Eva enjoys living simply, nurturing her garden and her family, and making things. Expensive energy bills pull her away from these simple joys and weigh heavily on her mind. As summer faded into fall and winter loomed, Eva worried about getting through the winter’s energy bills. When Eva heard that she might be eligible for increased incentives to weatherize her home, she was intrigued.
The complicating factor was that her roof also needed to be replaced around the same time. Eva knew she wouldn’t be able to afford the upfront cost of both projects at once, even if the energy savings from the weatherization project could save her money.
After reaching out to us, she learned that her project would be eligible for both the maximum incentive of $4,000 as well as a program that allowed her to pay for the project through low monthly payments. Even better, she could bundle the roof project into those payments, if the new roof met insulation standards.
In November 2019, Eva worked with three Efficiency Excellence Network contractors to complete the project. Vermont Foam Insulation insulated and air sealed the basement and attic. HB Energy Solutions completed the roof installation, ensuring the new roof would meet high performance energy standards. Analyzing Energy acted as a General Contractor to coordinate the projects.
When she looked at the numbers, she knew she’d made the right choice. Based on her monthly oil costs, she estimates that the weatherization & roofing project will reduce her oil bills by at least $70 per month. Those savings, combined with the rebate, will cover the cost of the monthly loan payment for the weatherization project, and even help cover the roofing loan expenses.
But as with many Vermonters who complete a weatherization project, money is just one piece of it.
“This gives me comfort and a sense of security regarding heat and fuel.”
Eva is not alone. Expanded weatherization programs and incentives meant that hundreds more Vermonters were able to take advantage of the benefits of weatherization than in 2018. These incentives opened the door to weatherization for homeowners who wouldn’t have been able to weatherize previously.
Note: As participation continues, we may adjust incentive amounts to ensure the funds remain available throughout 2020 and allow for as many projects to be completed as possible.
Looking back to look ahead
These three stories stand out because, without Efficiency Vermont, they might not have been able to complete these important projects and reduce their costs. As we continue learning from Vermonters about what they need, I look forward to identifying new ways to expand access to energy and cost savings through efficiency.