Most of the homes in Fayette County, a rural community in southwestern Pennsylvania, were built to support workers in the coal mining industry and aged alongside it. As a result, Fayette County now has an abundance of inefficient buildings and under- or unemployed residents.
Using $4.1 million in seed funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Better Buildings Neighborhood Program, Fayette County created the Better Buildings Initiative (BBI) to address both of these issues. By offering workforce training to local building contractors, the program sought to increase the energy efficiency of the county’s buildings while boosting its employment in the green jobs arena. The Fayette County BBI targeted primarily residential buildings but also had a commercial component.
The Fayette County BBI was modeled after the county Redevelopment Authority’s Weatherization Program, which focuses on low-income households. The Fayette County BBI also targeted moderate and above-moderate-income households, as well as commercial building owners. The program provided tiered financial incentives based on income level to help homeowners install energy efficiency measures that would result in energy savings of at least 15%. Commercial customers were eligible for grants and low-interest loans.
In addition to reducing the county’s energy use, the program also created job opportunities in the clean energy sector for under- and unemployed residents through workforce training. This training, provided by a local non-profit organization, was required for contractors to participate in the program, which helped ensure a skilled workforce. Read more in Fayette County’s final report [link to final report].
Through its multi-pronged efforts, the Fayette County BBI improved both the energy efficiency of the county’s older housing stock and commercial buildings as well as the area’s clean energy economy.
- Residential Program Design: Targeting Fayette County residents with low to moderate incomes who owned their homes, the residential program sought to reduce home energy use by at least 15%. After completing a required energy assessment and submitting an application, homeowners received a list of qualified contractors from which to select one to implement the recommended energy efficiency upgrades, which ranged from insulation and air sealing to appliance replacement.
- Marketing and Outreach: The program employed a number of marketing strategies to reach potential customers, including the use of social media, postcards, brochures, email campaigns, public workshops, public service announcements, and radio and television advertising. The program also partnered with energy providers such as Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania to reach a wider audience and took advantage of customers’ word-of-mouth advertising.
- Financing: The residential program offered homeowners tiered financing and incentive options based on income. Low-income homeowners could install energy efficiency upgrades at no cost through the Weatherization Program, while moderate-income homeowners could qualify for free home energy assessments and rebates up to $2,000 for installing energy upgrades.
- Workforce Development: Fayette County partnered with the Private Industry Council (PIC) of Westmoreland/Fayette to offer a free training program to contractors to become Building Performance Institute (BPI)-certified, a requirement to participate in the Fayette County BBI. PIC also provided training in building envelope, sales, and business development and created a revolving loan fund to create low-interest loans and grants for contractors to purchase equipment for launching new businesses.
- Commercial Program Design: Every commercial building in the county was eligible to participate. Funding was available to implement projects up to $15,000, with one-third of the funding offered as a grant and two-thirds as a loan with 0% interest for up to three years. Energy assessments were also required for commercial projects.
The Fayette County BBI gleaned important lessons, including:
- Establish effective partnerships. The program found that partnering with utilities helped drive demand and garnered more application interest.
- Modify financial incentives to meet customer needs. At the program’s start, some applicants did not understand the rebate offerings and expected hidden fees, and others were unable to pay for upgrades upfront to be reimbursed at a later time. In response, the program adjusted its rebate offerings to a dual-pay system that could reimburse the contractor, which encouraged more residents to participate.
- Provide training to building contractors. The training offered through PIC provided technical and business knowledge to local building contractors that were already familiar with the county’s homes and energy efficiency upgrade needs.
Fayette County’s low-income households (less than 200% of the federal poverty level) continue to receive energy efficiency improvements through the county’s Weatherization Program, which is funded through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, DOE’s Weatherization Assistance Program, and local utility companies.