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Community Partners reEnergize Industry in Nebraska

What if every time you lent your neighbor a cup of flour, he invited you and the rest of your block to share his freshly baked chocolate cake in return? Through your contribution, your neighbor has the ingredients to create his cake, and you share in his resulting success. That's the concept driving Nebraska's reEnergize Program.

Better Buildings Neighborhood Program partner reEnergize is a collaboration between the cities of Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska, with a goal of performing energy upgrades in more than 3,000 homes and more than 260 commercial and nonprofit buildings in three years. The reEnergize program hopes to create over 300 new jobs and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions—all while building the foundation of a strong, sustained local market for energy efficiency services.

Photo of tall buildings in a city skyline, with a river spread out in the foreground.To meet these ambitious goals and get the project off the ground, program organizers needed the key ingredients for success—inspiration, guidance, resources, and investment—so reEnergize leveraged its greatest asset: a community hungry for job creation and neighbors eager to help.

"To give the reEnergize program a solid start, we identified local organizations that would be instrumental in establishing and maintaining an energy efficiency market over time," said Kristina Wamstad-Evans, reEnergize program administrator. "We then asked them to make a pledge toward our goal, and they responded in an overwhelmingly positive way."

This group of local stakeholders, which reEnergize calls Leverage Partners, is made up of a growing number of area businesses and nonprofits, including utilities, institutions of higher education, community organizations, business leaders, and government departments. More than $65 million has been pledged in time, resources, and money to support the program's effort to help build a strong local energy upgrade market.

One Leverage Partner, Lamond Wilburn, expects to reap benefits far exceeding his support for the program. Over the last few years, Wilburn's construction business had felt the effects of the down economy. When he heard about efforts to launch the reEnergize Program, Wilburn had a feeling that his skills could be put to use. He became passionate about the promise of energy efficiency and the opportunity to transform his business as the local market grows.

"I had experience doing weatherization work," Wilburn explains. "So, I was very familiar with sealing up doors and windows. But this goes much deeper. It's all about helping people be comfortable and safe in their homes."

Wilburn became one of Omaha's first certified energy professionals and committed his time and resources to building up the reEnergize program. As reEnergize grows, businesses like his will benefit from more demand in the marketplace.

"I really believe in the opportunity to help people be safer and find comfort in their homes," he says. "We have a vision for this program to improve safety and efficiency. These markets are just going to continue to grow."

Upgrades performed through the reEnergize program aim to reduce energy use by 25% or more.

"We've found that homeowners are really excited about this program," says Crystal Rhoades, assistant director of the Neighborhood Center. "A lot of people understand the value of getting their homes retrofitted because of rising energy costs and wanting to be more comfortable in their homes. This program is helping them do that by eliminating the challenges associated with vetting contractors and getting a good, fair price."

As a Leverage Partner in the program, the Neighborhood Center's participation also directly impacts its own mission.

"Being a Leverage Partner has been a valuable experience, because a successful reEnergize program benefits our organization, too," Rhoades says. "Crime, housing, safety and health is our focus—and the reEnergize program covers all of these. Energy efficiency improvements address health issues in the home, and help prevent 'broken window syndrome' where damage contributes to neighborhood decline. reEnergize also acts as an economic engine, prevents deterioration of the housing stock and can improve or maintain property values in a neighborhood."

One challenge in Omaha is that much of the housing stock is older and needs health and safety improvements before energy efficiency upgrades can be done. That's where Omaha's Healthy Kids Alliance comes in. The organization conducts a "Healthy Home Review" on homes that enter the reEnergize program.

"As we provide Healthy Home Reviews, we can teach people that a lot of the things you'd do to fix lead problems are things that make a home more energy efficient. We can talk about home safety, comfort, plus the energy and dollar savings," said Kara Eastman, executive director of Omaha Healthy Kids Alliance.

Eastman's organization has also been able to improve its own model through participation in the reEnergize program.

While the reEnergize Program is taking a creative approach to collaboration that is uniquely suited to the local community, through DOE's Better Buildings Neighborhood Program, partners across the country are working to create strong, self-sustaining markets for energy efficiency improvements nationwide. Much like your neighbor's cake, the results are something we can all enjoy.

To learn more, find a Better Buildings Neighborhood Program near you.