Beacon Communities Project
Location: Berlin, Nashua, and Plymouth, New Hampshire
Seed Funding: $10 million
Target Building Types: Residential, commercial, industrial, and government
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New Hampshire Elects Three Towns to Serve as Beacons for Energy Efficiency
For the state's first comprehensive energy efficiency program, New Hampshire has chosen three diverse towns to demonstrate and champion methods that can be replicated to transform the state's energy efficiency market. Berlin, a rural community ripe for economic development; Plymouth, a college town open to sustainability efforts; and Nashua, the second largest urban environment in the state, are participating in the Beacon Communities Project.
With $10 million in seed funding from the U.S. Department of Energy's Better Buildings Neighborhood Program, the Beacon Communities Project is planning to upgrade residential, commercial, industrial, and municipal buildings in Berlin, Plymouth, and Nashua, New Hampshire. With the goal of reducing energy use by 30% through energy efficiency upgrades, the program will identify additional Better Buildings communities across the state after the initial grant period, with the first three towns serving as their mentors.
Program Design: Local Offices Create a Home Base
Workforce Development: Consistency Breeds Quality
Financing: Financing Options to Spur Participation
Driving Demand: A Cooperative Approach to Low-Income Homes
Program Design: Program Expansion and Innovative Developments
Local Offices Create a Home Base
The three initial Beacon Communities were selected from more than 30 applicants based on their mix of geography, economic status, building types, and other demographics. Berlin's economy began to decline when its pulp mill closed in 2006, and the city is looking to leverage a burgeoning energy efficiency market to reinvigorate its economy. Berlin has also partnered with the Northern Forest Center on its innovative Model Neighborhood Project. Through this partnership, Berlin residents are making their homes more energy efficient by installing pellet boiler systems that take advantage of local and renewable fuel for heat in the cold New Hampshire winters.
As a model for institutional and citizen-based sustainability efforts, the university town of Plymouth will use its early successes to motivate other New Hampshire communities to adopt energy efficiency. And Nashua, the second largest city in the state and one with a rich industrial history, will upgrade many old commercial buildings and multifamily housing structures and bring them into compliance with today's energy codes.
The Beacon Communities Project has established a local office in each of these three forward-thinking towns to coordinate outreach and walk businesses and homeowners through the energy efficiency improvement process. Each office has a community manager who generates support for the program by hosting outreach events and making presentations at local meetings; maintains lists of qualified energy professionals; and assists in identifying financial opportunities for upgrades. In addition, a technical advisor is on hand to address specific energy efficiency questions; facilitate energy check-ups and timely completion of projects; and help owners interpret energy evaluation findings and recommendations from energy professionals.
Consistency Breeds Quality
The Beacon Communities Project requires energy professionals to be Building Performance Institute (BPI)-certified and rated based on their experience installing energy efficiency improvements. Working through local community colleges, the Beacon Communities Project is providing BPI curriculum and training to help develop more qualified workers and foster employment in these three towns. In addition to classroom training sessions, the Beacon Communities Project and Lakes Region Community College offer a mentoring opportunity for workers who have completed classroom trainings but need more experience in the field before working on their own. As of May 2012, 36 workers had been trained through these classes and mentorships. Another series of trainings focused in the northern part of the state began in May 2012.
By collecting before and after upgrade data from energy professionals and local utilities, the Beacon Communities Project will determine best practices to implement in later phases of the program. Energy professionals are required to use the same software to ensure that the measured savings from an energy upgrade in a home in Nashua would be the same for a similar home in Berlin or Plymouth. This approach not only helps maintain quality performance of energy efficiency upgrades across the board, but ensures consistency among savings data for comparison purposes. The program is using Targeted Retrofit Energy Analysis Tool (TREAT) software for residential properties, which will capture and analyze energy efficiency data. For commercial properties, a set of evaluation guidelines helps to provide consistent information while recognizing that a variety of approaches to analysis can work well, depending on the building type, size, and use.
Financing Options to Spur Participation
Better Buildings funds will leverage private investment from banks and credit unions in Plymouth, Berlin, and Nashua to create attractive financing terms that will encourage program participation. For residential and small commercial projects (up to $20,000), the program buys down interest rates to allow for an attractive 1% interest rate loan product. The Beacon Communities Project is also providing a loan loss reserve account to help mitigate risk. Funding will be used to address existing barriers in the private market such as building owner concerns about upfront costs and bank concerns about loan defaults. For medium and large commercial projects, the program has created a co-lending loan product with financial institutions. Better Buildings funds are used for half the capital at 0% while the bank provides the other half of the capital at a rate negotiated with the borrower, usually 5-7%, which results in a lower-than-market blended rate for the borrower.
A Cooperative Approach to Low-Income Homes
Last fall, the Beacon Communities Project partnered with the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund, the Tri-County Community Action Program, New Hampshire Electric Co-op, and Lakes Region Community College to implement a series of projects in Whip-O-Will Hill Village, a resident-owned community of mobile homes in Plymouth. Through cooperation with the community's Board of Directors, a door-to-door education campaign was implemented to increase homeowner interest in energy efficiency. Homes qualifying for low-income programs were served by Tri-County Community Action and New Hampshire Community Loan funds. Other homes were served by the New Hampshire Electric Co-op's Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® program and Better Buildings. Contractors were also trained on implementing energy efficiency projects specifically in mobile home units, conducting energy upgrades in three mobile homes as a hands-on learning experience.
Program Expansion and Innovative Developments
In April 2012, the Beacon Communities Project opened an application period for additional commercial, non-profit, and municipal energy efficiency projects from any community in the state. The program seeks to implement several additional energy efficiency projects, as funding allows, and is prioritizing project applications that have either already completed an energy evaluation or are looking for substantial implementation loans.
The program is also developing a formal collaboration with the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR programs run by the state's metered utilities. This collaboration will provide an integrated approach for residential projects, allowing them to work both with Home Performance with ENERGY STAR and New Hampshire BetterBuildings. Key elements of this program include on-bill financing and program implementation through an existing contractor network.
U.S. Department of Energy
Better Buildings Neighborhood Program