BetterBuildings Lowell Energy Upgrade (BLEU)
Location: Lowell, Massachusetts
Seed Funding: $5 million
Target Building Type: Commercial and multifamily buildings
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Energy Efficiency in Historic Buildings January 17, 2012
Lowell, Massachusetts, Honors the Past as It Builds a Carbon-Neutral Future
Lowell, Massachusetts, was incorporated in 1822 as the first planned industrial city in the United States. Lowell's tradition of innovation continues as the city plans to become the first Carbon Neutral Historic District in the country.
With $5 million in seed funding from the U.S. Department of Energy's Better Buildings Neighborhood Program, Lowell is implementing a neighborhood-scale energy efficiency program targeting the city's historic commercial and multifamily buildings. The city created BetterBuildings Lowell Energy Upgrade (BLEU) in partnership with the Massachusetts Historical Commission and the National Park Service to demonstrate how energy efficiency upgrades can be achieved in commercial buildings while also adhering to historic standards.
Preserving History and Making Enhancements for Local Businesses
Once the hub of the nation's textile industry during the Industrial Revolution, the city of Lowell and its economy grew rapidly during the 19th and early 20th centuries but declined during the Great Depression and post-World War II era. In 1978, Lowell's downtown district was designated as the first urban National Historic Park in the United States, and many of its vacant, historic manufacturing buildings have been converted into several million square feet of commercial space. Achieving energy efficiency upgrades in historic buildings while respecting their historic character, however, presents many challenges.
BLEU is partnering with multiple stakeholders to meet these challenges and demonstrate how a neighborhood-scale energy efficiency program can successfully target historic buildings for improvement while adhering to strict preservation standards. The program will serve as a replicable model for energy efficiency upgrades in other historic districts.
Historic buildings often show the years of wear and tear—especially when it comes to energy efficiency. Windows are often old or cracked. There is little to no insulation, and doors lack weather stripping. BLEU has developed a suite of solutions, to show property owners how energy efficiency upgrades can go hand-in-hand with historic preservation:
- To ensure energy efficiency measures won't conflict with preservation standards, the city enlisted historic preservation specialists to provide technical assistance to property owners implementing efficiency upgrades.
- Because property owners may be concerned about the financial feasibility of addressing both preservation and efficiency standards, the city is providing incentives to owners through grant and loan programs, as well as direct install rebates.
- Lowell plans to implement outreach and marketing efforts such as direct mail and blast emails to property owners to help combat a general lack of awareness of how historic preservation and energy efficiency can co-exist.
Different Financing Options Provide Flexible Choices
BLEU is offering a variety of financing options to entice property owners to implement energy efficiency upgrades that reduce total energy use in Lowell's historic buildings by 15%. Through the "Bright BLEU" project, boiler replacements, insulation, lighting, and air sealing can qualify for financing: one-third of the project cost up to $250,000 is provided by a BLEU grant; one-third is a loan administered by the Lowell Development and Finance Corp. (LDFC); and one-third comes from the property owner. Property owners will replay LDFC over 10 years at a low interest rate of 3%. Loan repayments will replenish the LDFC's Carbon Neutral Lowell and Park Preservation District loan fund to finance additional upgrade and improvement projects after the initial three years of Better Buildings funding.
As a special discount for deeper savings, during summer 2011, property owners could get $60,000 in a grant/loan with no owner match for various levels of energy reduction.
BLEU also has a direct install rebate program, through which property owners can receive a rebate of up to $1,500 for the cost of energy efficiency equipment installed by a small business direct install program sponsored by National Grid, the local gas and electric utility. Before any installations occur, National Grid completes a free energy analysis to determine the necessary improvements, targeting lighting, appliances, and other simple upgrades with a short payback period. National Grid pays 70% of the upgrade cost, and the property owner covers the remaining 30%, as long as projected energy savings for the building are 15% or higher. For commercial and multifamily property owners seeking to reduce energy costs, the energy analysis and rebate program is the perfect starting point.
Jobs for the Future
With an unemployment rate 1.5 percentage points higher than the national average, Lowell is considered an "Economically Distressed Area" by the U.S. Economic Development Administration. By leveraging Better Buildings funding, Lowell hopes to support additional jobs in the community. Local contractors complete training and orientation on historic buildings improvements.
To help businesses select firms to complete their energy efficiency upgrades with confidence, the city has established a contractor prequalification program and lists qualified professionals on the BLEU website, which includes the firms' specialties (e.g., lighting, weatherization, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning); historic building project experience; and various contractor certifications.
U.S. Department of Energy
Better Buildings Neighborhood Program