Spurred by the creation of a Climate Action Plan to reduce the town of Bedford, New York’s greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020, Energize New York used combined funding of $2.52 million from the U.S. Department of Energy's Better Buildings Neighborhood Program and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to pilot a successful energy efficiency program in Bedford that became a launching point for 13 other municipalities in the Northern Westchester Energy Action Consortium (NWEAC).
The program built upon NYSERDA’s existing Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® program, adding measures to directly support homeowners through the upgrade process and drive demand through local leadership involvement. After completing the Bedford pilot and making program improvements, Energize New York worked with the local development corporation Energy Improvement Corporation (EIC) to assist more municipalities in Westchester County with implementing the program.
In New York, municipal governments have significant decision-making power, and local leaders can be quite influential with residents. Therefore, a core component of Energize New York’s program was a community-based outreach model that recruited local leaders to serve as champions to promote the program. Some of these local leaders upgraded their own homes and shared their first-hand experience with the program and its benefits. By doing so, they also demonstrated their commitment to meeting community goals, i.e., Bedford’s Climate Action Plan.
Program staff guided homeowners through all stages of the upgrade process, including home energy assessments, contractor selection, and financing options. An energy coach explained to homeowners the benefits of energy efficiency upgrades. The program also provided a contractor rating index and specialized “corps” of contractors from which homeowners could select contractors. Once the Bedford pilot was completed, EIC used lessons learned from that effort to launch the Energize New York program in the remaining 13 NWEAC municipalities. Read more in the Energize New York final report.
Energize New York worked to transform the residential energy efficiency market in Westchester County by providing homeowners with trusted local messengers, case studies, direct staff support, and other resources.
- Residential Program Design: Energize New York built upon the existing infrastructure of NYSERDA’s Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program, contributing local messengers in each community and staff to coach homeowners from assessment through contractor selection and financing. The Energize Bedford pilot was launched in early 2011, and local development corporation EIC expanded it to other NWEAC municipalities by 2012.
- Marketing and Outreach: The program’s community-based marketing and outreach strategy recruited key leaders in each community to make energy efficiency upgrades and promote the comfort and savings benefits, as well as encourage contribution to community goals of greenhouse gas reduction and energy security.
- Financing: Energize New York originally planned to offer Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing. Because the Federal Home Finance Agency issued guidance against using residential PACE financing before the program launched, other options were devised to help homeowners finance home energy upgrades, including unsecured loans from the state, as well as NYSERDA’s On-Bill Recovery Financing Program. To lower the cost barriers to participation, the program also offered comprehensive home energy assessments at no charge or reduced rates (based on a home’s average median income) through the Green Jobs–Green New York Program. The state provided homeowners a 10% rebate on the total cost of the upgrades once completed.
- Workforce Development: Energize New York created the Energize Comfort Corps (a select group of contractors who had completed a minimum number of projects) and Contractor Rating Index (which scored contractors based on number of projects, customer surveys, and qualifications) to help homeowners select qualified and high-performing contractors. The program also offered paid internships to eight high school, college, and post-college students and worked with local contractors to funnel interns into on-the-job training opportunities.
Through the pilot program in Bedford, program staff learned important lessons transferable to the 13 other municipalities in Westchester County and municipal programs across the country, including:
- Actively involve key community leaders. In communities where local leaders (e.g., elected officials, civic, clergy, business, and other prominent community members) promoted the program and completed energy efficiency upgrades in their own homes, the rate of project completion was more than double the average of that across all participating municipalities.
- Support homeowners through the upgrade process. Many elements of Energize New York’s program were included to ease homeowners through the process, to overcome a common barrier to upgrades.
- Make contractor selection easy. In collaboration with an Energize Comfort Corps (ECC), Energize New York developed its Contractor Rating Index that calculates scores for contractors based on customer feedback, accreditations, and number of completed projects. The ECC is composed of a select subset of NYSERDA-approved and Building Performance Institute-accredited contractors that also meet a minimum standard of activity.
- Complete a pilot program before wider rollout. While the Bedford pilot program was underway, other municipalities were eager to launch the program, but Energize New York waited until the pilot was completed in order to prepare all elements of the program so it would be most effective when it was ultimately rolled out.
- Partner effectively. With NYSERDA’s Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program serving as a template, Energize New York staff worked closely with NYSERDA staff to share ideas and take advantage of NYSERDA’s established contractor network and marketing program.
- Prepare multiple financing options. When the initial proposal for PACE financing fell through, the program had state financing options to fall back on, but it did add to the difficulty the program experienced in meeting its initial target of 1,000 home energy upgrades.
Through the creation of a community-based marketing and outreach model, Energize New York utilized and strengthened local networks, creating capacity and infrastructure in several communities that is expected to foster program sustainability:
- Energize New York will become a three-pronged effort: Energize New York Residential, Energize New York Commercial, and Energize New York Finance. Energize New York Residential will continue to offer the same program features that have made it successful and focus on the mid-Hudson region. The commercial and finance programs will serve the entire state. Under Energize New York Finance, PACE financing will be offered for commercial and multifamily energy efficiency and renewable energy projects statewide.
- The programs will continue to coordinate events and outreach with municipal leaders, as well as continue its partnership with NYSERDA, NWEAC, and the town of Bedford to build on the trust established in Energize New York.
- The ECC will continue to be available as a network of trusted contractors for home energy upgrades.