As part of its efforts to offer a comprehensive energy efficiency program across the state of New Hampshire, NH Better Buildings sought to address key market barriers and reduce energy use by at least 15% through upgrades in residential and commercial buildings. The program initially launched as the NH Beacon Communities Project, an initiative that directly targeted three diverse towns to serve as “beacons” across the state.
With $10 million in seed funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Neighborhood Program, the program began in 2010 in the three beacon communities of Berlin, Nashua, and Plymouth, which were selected through an application process and ranged in economic status, building types, and demographics. In 2012, the program expanded statewide and hosted a competitive application process for additional commercial, nonprofit, and municipal projects that needed funding.
NH Better Buildings began as a community-focused initiative targeting deep energy upgrades. Administered by the New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning and managed by the state’s Community Development Finance Authority, the program established a local office in each of the three beacon communities. Each local office was staffed by a community manager and a technical advisor who served as the main points of contact for customers and contractors, conducted outreach, and helped homeowners and businesses through the energy upgrade process.
Attractive financing options enabled residential and commercial customers to achieve deep upgrades. The program partnered with local banks and credit unions to offer a host of financing options, from low-interest loans to rebates. Eventually, NH Better Buildings formally partnered with the state utilities’ Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® (HPwES) program, which further streamlined the process for residential customers, and expanded to additional communities across the state. Read more in the NH Better Buildings final report.
NH Better Buildings provided local outreach, technical assistance, financing options, and a qualified contractor workforce to achieve deep energy upgrades in residential and commercial buildings.
- Residential Program Design: At each local beacon community office, a community manager was responsible for coordinating outreach, maintaining a list of qualified contractors, and working with customers to determine financing options. The program’s technical advisor helped customers through assessments and upgrades, answering technical questions and providing advice on assessment findings and recommendations. When the program expanded statewide, the regulated state utilities’ HPwES program then helped to provided outreach and technical assistance. Customers benefited from the HPwES rebates, streamlined process, and combined financing options to achieve deeper upgrades.
- Marketing and Outreach: Beyond grassroots outreach and events, the program’s contractor network promoted upgrades to customers. For every completed upgrade a contractor referred, NH Better Buildings offered a $300 incentive; in each of the three beacon communities, 40 $300 incentives were available on a first-come, first-served basis. If contractors conducted a marketing campaign and included NH Better Buildings’ information in their materials, the program subsidized the costs.
- Financing: NH Better Buildings partnered with local banks and credit unions to create attractive financing options. For example, for residential and small commercial projects up to $20,000, the program offered loans up to 10-year terms with a 1% interest rate by buying down the rate. It also provided a 50% loan loss reserve to partner banks and credit unions. In the three beacon communities, residents were eligible for upgrade rebates of up to $1,000, and commercial participants could get a 25% rebate of the total project cost up to $150,000.
- Workforce Development: NH Better Buildings established a list of Building Performance Institute-certified contractors who had prior experience installing energy upgrades. The program partnered with local community colleges to provide training, such as Building Analyst and Building Installer classes. The program also sponsored trainings on energy assessment software, installations in manufactured homes, and a workshop to educate real estate agents about energy efficiency. NH Better Buildings offered a mentoring opportunity in the field for contractors to gain experience in order to meet the program’s qualified contractor list requirements.
- Commercial Program Design: Local offices led the way on commercial efforts. In Plymouth, for example, the program conducted door-to-door outreach with local organizations. When the program expanded beyond the beacon communities, it solicited applications for statewide commercial, nonprofit, and municipal upgrade projects.
Through its beacon communities and subsequent expansion, NH Better Buildings learned important lessons for increasing residential and commercial energy upgrades:
- Demystify the various state energy efficiency offerings. NH Better Buildings worked to streamline the process and provide customers with a one-stop shop for the various efficiency programs available in the state. Staff stressed the importance of coordination with other stakeholders in the marketplace, to not only lessen customer confusion, but to also leverage existing resources such as contractor networks and data reporting systems.
- Offer project management and technical assistance to customers. In addition to having a community manager who helped customers understand their options throughout the upgrade process, technical advisors gave customers advice about which energy upgrades to install and answered any questions. This combined approach led to greater uptake of upgrades after assessments.
- Assign contractors to homeowners. Even when provided a list of qualified contractors, some customers still had trouble choosing, which could delay work. When NH Better Buildings partnered with the utilities, the HPwES program was able to provide customers a list of contractors to choose from, and for those without a preference, staff could directly assign a contractor based on the customer’s location and contractor’s workload.
- Utilize community-based marketing. The program tested a variety of marketing strategies in each of the beacon communities and found that any marketing strategy needs time to resonate with community members before it will translate to energy upgrades. Word-of-mouth marketing from satisfied customers was particularly effective. Program staff noted, however, that it can take up to a year for a customer to complete a successful upgrade before being able to serve as an effective promoter of the program.
Starting with three beacon communities and spreading across the state, NH Better Buildings stimulated the state’s energy efficiency marketplace and will continue in the following ways:
- The program will operate a revolving loan fund and will collect returned loan payments, interest, and loan loss reserves, which it will use to continue offering customers attractive loan options in the next iteration of the program. Through this fund, the program will have the option of continuing its co-lending relationships with local banks and credit unions, in addition to continuing its partnership with the state utilities’ HPwES program to offer customers attractive financing options.
- The New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission recently approved two state utilities’ pilot private-public financing programs, wherein the utility will buy down the private bank’s interest rate for loan capital. If it is successful, NH Better Buildings’ revolving loan fund could be used to support this effort.
- Through workforce development offered through the program, a qualified network of contractors emerged that will be available for future energy efficiency projects in the state.