Although Maine has one of the United States’ highest homeownership rates, more than one-third of the state’s residents qualify for low-income programs. In addition, Maine residents in all types of homes typically depend upon heating oil for warmth in the winter, and the price of heating oil rose significantly in recent years. To help residents take advantage of energy savings opportunities, the Efficiency Maine Trust leveraged $30 million in seed funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Neighborhood Program to encourage and assist homeowners across the state in completing energy upgrades.
By connecting homeowners to existing rebates and introducing new energy efficiency financing options, the program has made energy efficiency upgrades more accessible to Maine homeowners. Efficiency Maine also supported the state’s workforce by providing professional training opportunities in sales and customer service.
Efficiency Maine launched its Home Energy Savings Program (HESP) with rebates for home energy upgrades, which initially spurred demand. Rebate amounts were based on projected levels of energy savings. Putting a limited time offer on the rebates offered in 2010 and 2011 created a sense of urgency for homeowners to move forward with energy upgrades; projects were required to be completed by a certain deadline in order for homeowners to receive the rebate. The program transitioned to offering only financing as an incentive for residents to make energy upgrades, with great success. In April 2011, Efficiency Maine launched the Maine Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, a financing program that offers low-interest, long-term loans through a simple application process. PACE ordinances have passed in 176 Maine municipalities (reaching 76% of the state’s population), and additional municipalities have expressed interest in joining.
Efficiency Maine provided sales training to home performance contractors to support the professional development of the industry. Efficiency Maine also placed advertising to drive traffic to the program call center,PACE-related Web pages, and contractor ZIP code-searchable database that connects homeowners with trained energy efficiency professionals through a database. These contractors are ranked by the number of upgrades completed, which motivates them to market and complete more upgrades.
Efficiency Maine has helped the state make progress toward achieving its 20% energy reduction goal by 2030 by providing incentives and financing options that increase accessibility to home energy upgrades.
- Residential Program Design: In addition to helping homeowners find qualified contractors and secure financing for energy efficiency projects, Efficiency Maine offered limited-time rebates to drive demand for residential energy upgrades. As a way to transition from rebates to financing and keep the workforce engaged, the program launched a statewide Residential Direct Install (RDI) program in 2012. Homeowners could receive a $600 rebate for completing an energy assessment and at least six hours of air sealing work. The incentives succeeded, with contractors making measurable energy improvements in 8,000 houses in 12 months. Of the homes that completed air sealing, 20% went on to commit to deeper upgrades.
- Marketing and Outreach: To encourage homeowners to move forward with energy upgrades, Efficiency Maine added a deadline to its rebate program. Homeowners who completed upgrades before the deadline were eligible for $3,000 for completing improvements projected to increase home energy efficiency by 50%. While the program also drove demand through radio and television advertising, many participants indicated that referrals from people they knew were a major part of their decision. Efficiency Maine also increased awareness about the program by coordinating with property tax bill service providers to add pamphlets about the PACE financing program into tax bills.
- Financing: Originally, the program offered homeowners rebates based on the depth of their energy efficiency improvements, such as incentives up to $1,500 for a 25% projected increase in energy efficiency. Once this effort helped to catalyze initial demand, Efficiency Maine shifted its focus to financing. The program established a $20.4 million revolving loan fund and the Maine PACE financing program, which offered homeowners 4.99% fixed financing with a 15-year term. If homeowners sold their properties, they had two options: the new owners could assume the loan, or the homeowner could repay the loan early at no penalty. In 2012, the program also made U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Title 1 PowerSaver loans for weatherization available to homeowners, who have access to financing up to $25,000.
- Workforce Development: Participating contractors had to meet four requirements: provide evidence of proper licensure and certification; sign the program’s Registered Vendor Code of Conduct; maintain insurance coverage concordant with program terms and conditions; and submit a signed Registered Vendor Agreement form. Homeowners could use the “Advisor locator” tool on Efficiency Maine’s website to find local Residential Registered Vendors. Efficiency Maine also provided contractor training in sales and customer service skills to help convert assessments to upgrades.
To drive demand for energy upgrades, Efficiency Maine set deadlines for rebates, trained contractors on sales techniques, and transitioned to attractive financing terms. Lessons learned include the following:
- Communicate with homeowners and contractors to maintain program momentum. During the course of an upgrade, homeowners might have questions or problems, and contractors may encounter issues relating to program guidelines, processes, or forms. Efficiency Maine established multiple lines of communication to ensure that such inquiries did not slow the program down, including a call center and monthly webinars for contractors to review program rules and discuss any problems they encountered in the field.
- Consider a warm-up period. Efficiency Maine found that its most significant challenge was that it took nearly a year to set up the PACE loan program, identify a willing financial partner, and recruit towns to participate in the program. The RDI program helped the program gain momentum.
- Foster word-of-mouth marketing. While creating buzz through advertising raised awareness about the program, participants indicated that a key factor in their decision to complete major upgrades were referrals from friends, family, neighbors, and trusted contractors. Efficiency Maine helped contractors build trust with customers by offering customer service training.
- Ensure accessibility. For customers to move forward and complete energy efficiency upgrades, they needed access to service providers and resources that could help them take the next steps, including financing options and reliable information about energy efficiency benefits.
Efficiency Maine will continue to fund its financing and other incentives through the following efforts:
- Efficiency Maine will expand its residential loan portfolio.
- In 2012, the program filed a petition for a Purchase Power Agreement for consideration by the Maine Public Utilities Commission. Through this agreement, the money saved from energy projects completed through Efficiency Maine could be used to buy down debt and replenish the revolving loan fund.
- In the future, funding for program incentives will come from a combination of Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative auction proceeds, funds from electric and gas system benefit charges, and revenue from the ISO-New England Forward Capacity Market, a local capacity market intended to send price signals to attract new investment into the region.
- Efficiency Maine will collect data to create a track record of program performance that establishes the value of energy upgrades and weatherization work for future outreach purposes.
- Summary of Reported Data
- Data Dashboard
- Efficiency Maine Annual Reports
- Evaluation of the Efficiency Maine Trust Pace Loan Program: Interim Impact Report
CASE STUDIES & INTERVIEWS
- Contractor Sales Training Boosts Energy Upgrade Conversions
- Transition to a Sustainable Level of Incentives
- "Residential Air Sealing Program Drives Maine Home Energy Savings Through the Roof”