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Cincinnati, Ohio

Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance

Location: Cincinnati, Ohio; serves Hamilton County in Ohio and Boone, Kenton, and Campbell counties in Kentucky
Seed Funding: $17 million
Target Building Type: Residential, commercial, and institutional
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Greater Cincinnati, Ohio, Energy Alliance Uses Community Organizers to Build Trust

More than 600 nonprofits and other community organizations are based in the Greater Cincinnati area, an indication of the strong community spirit in this metropolitan area, the 24th most populous in the country. Residents put a lot of trust in the local clubs or churches to which they belong. Recognizing the strength of the bond between these organizations and their members, the Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance, a nonprofit organization, is using $17 million in seed funding from the U.S. Department of Energy's Better Buildings Neighborhood Program to bring energy efficiency upgrades to the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky region.

Program Design: Saving Energy Through a Multi-Faceted Effort
Financing: Alliance Incentivizes Improvement With 35% Offer
Driving Demand: Door-to-Door Communication Convinces Citizens to Change
Workforce Development: Increased Demand Leads to More Classes, More Jobs

Saving Energy Through a Multi-Faceted Effort

Housing in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky region dates from an era when energy efficiency was not a concern. To encourage citizens to make the energy upgrades needed to bring these homes into the 21st century, the Energy Alliance is undertaking several efforts:

  • Conducting community outreach events and door-to-door canvassing
  • Creating a comprehensive and easy-to-use website for residents to access a free home energy comparison report and sign up online for an energy assessment
  • Forging partnerships with local nonprofits, churches, and other civic organizations

The Energy Alliance has recruited "parent" organizations to connect and network with nonprofits across the area that could benefit from energy upgrades. For example, the Energy Alliance contacted the Missions Foundation of the Ohio River Valley District of the United Methodist Church (UMC), which oversees all area Methodist churches, to offer its services to member churches. The Missions Foundation connected the Energy Alliance with its first nonprofit energy upgrade: the Mount Washington UMC. The Energy Alliance matched the church with technical resources and a financial grant to fund a $40,200 energy efficiency project, which included:

  • Installing T-8 fluorescent bulbs in 125 light fixtures
  • Replacing a 12-year-old boiler with a more efficient one
  • Updating outdated air conditioning equipment

Through these efforts, the church will reduce its annual lighting bill by 35%, annual heating bill by 25%, and annual cooling bill by 25%, with an expected savings of $8,000 per year. The church can now allocate these resources for other purposes, as well as inspire parishioners to schedule their own home energy evaluations.

The Energy Alliance is developing a nonprofit fundraising model, scheduled to launch in 2012, that rewards nonprofits for marketing the residential program to their members. For every successful home energy improvement completed, the Energy Alliance will provide $250 to the selected nonprofit's energy efficiency project.

Alliance Incentivizes Improvement With 35% Offer

To encourage residents to take action, the Energy Alliance currently offers $400-$500 energy evaluations for a reduced rate as low as $50. For any improvements homeowners undertake, the Energy Alliance provides either cash incentives up to 35% of the total project cost, or 15% of the project cost plus a 10-year unsecured loan of up to $20,000 with a 6.99% interest rate. The city of Forest Park, Ohio, provides an additional 15% incentive toward insulation and air sealing projects. To assist homeowners, the Energy Alliance and its contractors will also inform and help customers secure rebates from local utilities and federal and state tax credits to further reduce the project costs.

Door-to-Door Communication Convinces Citizens to Change

The Energy Alliance is conducting door-to-door canvassing to reach residents where they live. For one canvass, 30 volunteers met for an hour of training, then spent a Saturday knocking on the doors of 700 homes; speaking to 200 people; distributing 154 energy efficiency kits containing compact fluorescent light bulbs and low-flow faucet aerators; and generating 60 new energy assessment requests.

This strategy personalizes community outreach by using local volunteers as a trusted source to discuss energy improvement options with their neighbors. In summer 2011, the Energy Alliance had nine Americorps interns canvass neighborhoods to reach even more residents. The summer campaign attempted to reach more than 13,000 households. Canvassers spoke with more than 2,350 homeowners, and 670 expressed interest in an energy assessment.

The Energy Alliance's marketing team worked to create a plan for canvassing by selecting neighborhoods based on specific criteria. To develop the plan, the marketing team reviewed results from the American Council for an Energy-Efficiency Economy (ACEEE) market study, and selected the best ranking zip codes in categories such as homeownership rate, foreclosure rate, income level, education completed, and home equity. The team also looked for areas that had a high concentration of existing retrofits completed and used local knowledge to select additional neighborhoods—with older housing stock—that are known as progressive. Finally, tablet computers were utilized to upload daily maps and track potential homeowner's responses for a quicker turn-around in messaging and processing data.

To ensure the energy upgrade process goes smoothly, Energy Alliance staff follows up with customers that have not taken action and provide a resource for homeowners with questions. In 2012, the Energy Alliance launched an instant messaging function on its website that allows homeowners to quickly chat with Energy Alliance staff.

Increased Demand Leads to More Classes, More Jobs

To meet the anticipated demand created by the program, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College increased the number of energy upgrade certification courses it offers. The school has already graduated several classes of students, many of whom were hired immediately by growing businesses.

In 2011, the Energy Alliance invested $500,000 to create the Building Performance Training Center at Cincinnati Technical and Community College's Workforce Development Center. This centralized location provides the building performance contractor community with a venue to obtain initial and continuing education without leaving the Cincinnati area. The training center is supported by two important positions: the workforce assurance manager is responsible for overseeing the center, contractor compliance, and contractor training; and the quality assurance manager oversees on-site inspections and one-on-one consultation with the home energy assessors.

In 2011, the Energy Alliance held its first two-day introductory course for participating contractors—Energy Alliance 101—at the training center. By year's end, three Energy Alliance 101 courses were offered, with more than 50 contractors attending. In addition, there were five BPI-Building Analyst courses held to train and certify energy auditors currently participating in the Energy Alliance's Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program.


Andy Holzhauser

U.S. Department of Energy
Better Buildings Neighborhood Program