Energy Upgrade California
Location: Alameda County, Los Angeles County, Sacramento, San Diego County, San Francisco, and Sonoma County
Seed Funding: $30 million
Target Building Types: Residential and commercial
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California Contractors and Whole House Raters: Partnering for Success February 23 and 24, 2012
Unlocking the Whole-Building Retrofit Opportunity: Energy Upgrade California January 19, 2011
Energy Upgrade California Pulls Together Efficiency Programs Statewide
In order to make energy efficiency upgrades as simple and clear as possible for the 10 million people living in Los Angeles County, the Los Angeles County Office of Sustainability made a decision early on to promote a single, regional residential efficiency program. With 78 of the 88 cities in Los Angeles County onboard, work proceeded on a unified program name and website. The California Energy Commission took it one step further and made Energy Upgrade California a statewide, whole-house efficiency program, supported by a statewide Web portal.
When Los Angeles County received $30 million in seed funding from the U.S. Department of Energy Better Buildings Neighborhood Program in June 2010, a dozen innovative pilot programs in six counties were added to Energy Upgrade California to extend the reach of the program, test new and creative marketing and partnership ideas, and still maintain a single, unified program to reduce customer confusion and leverage the marketing efforts for all program partners.
Covering 58 counties, Energy Upgrade California combines utility and local government rebates, statewide and local financing options, and training and scholarships for professionals into one easy-to-use, searchable, customizable website. Los Angeles County and its partners throughout the state are providing pilot programs tailored to meet the needs of specific communities and neighborhoods while searching for successful, replicable, scalable models to increase the number of upgrades. Conducting extensive marketing to both the public and the green building and construction industries, Los Angeles County is determined to improve the state's long-term market for whole-house energy efficiency upgrades.
Using the Workforce to Market the Program
Energy Upgrade California in Los Angeles County has put a diversity plan in place to attract small, minority-owned energy contracting companies. At the same time, Los Angeles County is working with local community colleges to build a skilled workforce and is providing scholarships for Building Performance Institute (BPI) certification. The program also provides tools and training to help participating professionals promote the Energy Upgrade program.
With such a large service area, Energy Upgrade California expects energy experts and other stakeholders, such as local cities and real estate agents, to use their established marketing channels to encourage energy upgrades. Knowing that contractors often don't have the time or experience to create their own marketing plans or tools, the program developed an online resource center with customizable marketing kits for contractors and other stakeholders. Frequent networking events for participating contractors also provide speakers and training on specific aspects of marketing and program administration.
These marketing resources were developed with input from the city, contractors, and stakeholders about their needs and barriers to participation. Because a lack of printing budgets was cited, Energy Upgrade California established an online, on-demand print center that stakeholders can access to print and deliver program marketing materials. Certain materials can be ordered free of charge, while other customized pieces are eligible for co-op matching funds. The marketing pieces raise visibility of home improvement professionals, help homeowners find qualified contractors, and ensure a consistent message about the program.
Competing for Upgrades
In addition to marketing tools for energy professionals, Energy Upgrade California Better Buildings Neighborhood Program partners promoted energy efficiency upgrades through paid advertising, at community events, and through media relations. The Los Angeles County program also held a competition for homes to receive upgrades, which drew more than 1,400 applicants and resulted in more than 10,000 website hits. Twenty finalists were selected to receive a free energy assessment. In addition, five homes were selected to receive extensive energy efficiency upgrades, and one winner received a near net-zero upgrade package.
Of the 1,400 applicants, approximately 1,000 indicated that they were willing to be contacted by a participating contractor to discuss energy efficiency upgrades, even if they didn't win. These qualified leads were distributed among the contractors for follow up. In addition, all applicants were sent a coupon from the county redeemable for $200 on completion of an energy upgrade.
Financial Incentives Spur Improvements
According to Melinda Barrett, public relations manager for the Los Angeles County Office of Sustainability, California homeowners have traditionally made energy efficiency improvements on an appliance-by-appliance basis. Energy Upgrade California has set out to transform the market to value a more holistic, whole-house approach to energy efficiency. Energy Upgrade California originally broke down the upgrade options into a basic and advanced package, with the basic package option including implementation of prescriptive energy efficiency measures. In an effort to allow more people to participate, the County developed and launched a new, more flexible option. The FlexPath option allows homeowners to choose from a menu of upgrade options with assigned point values and claim a $1,500 rebate for any combination of two or more measures that total at least 100 points.
The basic package, which can earn utility rebates of up to $1,000, includes seven required measures—air sealing, attic insulation, duct sealing, hot water pipe insulation, thermostatic shut-off valves, combusting appliance safety testing, and installation of a high-efficiency showerhead. The advanced upgrade package, which builds on the basic package, is a more in-depth, customized approach with rebates and federal tax credits totaling from $1,200 to more than $4,000, from the investor-owned utilities. Homeowners are also eligible for the same rebate amounts directly from Los Angeles County, resulting in a significant increase and a top rebate amount of $8,000.
For projects exceeding available rebates, Energy Upgrade California has PowerSaver loans of up to $25,000 for eligible homeowners wishing to install insulation, air sealing, solar panels, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems as part of their energy upgrade efforts. Any loan more than $7,500 is secured by a second lien on the property, much like a home equity line of credit. Los Angeles County partnered with a local financial institution to provide both a loan loss reserve and an interest rate buydown with the result of being able to offer property owners a 2% interest rate on eligible residential energy efficiency and solar projects. Solar projects must be installed concurrently or after the installation of energy efficiency measures and must be enrolled in the California Solar Initiative (CSI). As of March 31, 2012, this local program has resulted in 70 approved loans.
Local Pilot Programs
In addition to the activities in Los Angeles County, Better Buildings Neighborhood Program seed funding supports a number of Energy Upgrade California pilots around the state that have undertaken a variety of energy efficiency initiatives:
- Alameda County
- Los Angeles County
- San Diego County
- San Francisco
- Sonoma County
U.S. Department of Energy
Better Buildings Neighborhood Program