Designed to promote energy efficiency in buildings in Phoenix, Arizona’s 10-mile-long Light Rail Corridor, Energize Phoenix focused on performing energy upgrades and reducing energy use in commercial and residential spaces. Using $25 million in seed funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Neighborhood Program, the city’s public works department leveraged partnerships to provide energy and economic improvements.
The Light Rail Corridor runs through the center of downtown Phoenix, where the program focused on its diverse mix of homes, commercial buildings, public institutions, and offices. By offering multiple rebate, grant, and financing options, Energize Phoenix increased the number of opportunities available for residential and commercial customers to complete energy efficiency upgrades. In addition, the program stimulated the local economy and enhanced Phoenix’s already trained energy efficiency contractor base.
The City of Phoenix managed residential and commercial energy upgrade offerings in partnership with electric utility Arizona Public Service (APS), which had previously implemented a rebate program within the Energize Phoenix service area, and Arizona State University, whose research and data analysis capabilities allowed it to undertake program marketing responsibilities. Energize Phoenix worked with National Bank of Arizona to develop its commercial financing program.
Leveraging APS’ existing rebate program and pre-established contractor network were central to program success, as both customers and contractors were familiar with energy efficiency work prior to Energize Phoenix. This, combined with the density and diversity of buildings in the Light Rail Corridor, allowed the program to drive demand for energy efficiency upgrades and set the stage for continued energy savings. Read more in the Energize Phoenix final report.
Energize Phoenix promoted energy efficiency upgrades in the Light Rail Corridor by reaching out to home and building owners, increasing program accessibility, and offering contractor training opportunities.
- Residential Program Design: Program participants in the Light Rail Corridor were eligible for both the Energize Phoenix and utility rebates, resulting in low- to no-cost upgrades for some customers. Residential energy upgrade projects typically included: insulation; air and duct sealing; heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) upgrades; sunscreens; and solar water heaters. Energize Phoenix eventually expanded its service area beyond the Light Rail Corridor to attract additional residential customers. The result was an increase in the number of single-family and multifamily energy assessments and upgrades performed.
- Marketing and Outreach: Initially, Energize Phoenix’s program boundaries prevented the program from conducting broad marketing efforts, due to the boundary lines that divided some neighborhoods. As a result, not every homeowner in a neighborhood was eligible to participate in the program. Energize Phoenix addressed these initial geographic limitations by focusing its marketing on door-to-door outreach, print advertisements along the Light Rail Corridor, informational inserts in utility bills, a neighborhood recruitment event, and presentations to homeowners by city staff. To reinforce program identity, the program created a distinctive logo for its marketing materials. To help customers sign up for the program, Energize Phoenix designed its website to include program information and an online tool to help customers and contractors look up customer addresses that were within program boundaries.
- Financing: For moderate-income, single-family homeowners, Energize Phoenix’s 60/40 program covered 60% of home upgrade costs. Financing, including utility incentives and zero- or low-interest loans, could cover the remaining 40%.
- Workforce Development: With APS’ skilled network of energy professionals already in place, Energize Phoenix and APS built upon this foundation by offering contractor training and continuing education opportunities. For contractors interested in participating, city staff also provided a series of meetings about the program, its application process, rebate information, and the requirements necessary to become an Energize Phoenix approved contractor. The program also provided training to help professionals with Building Performance Institute certification, weatherization training, and energy efficiency-related software training.
- Commercial Program Design: Energize Phoenix’s commercial program included a revolving loan fund and loan loss reserve. Commercial customers in the corridor included both small and large commercial establishments, such as hotels, retail, and food service establishments. Commercial upgrades typically included chiller replacements, HVAC work, variable speed drive motors, and lighting work. In addition, Energize Phoenix matched existing utility rebates. Commercial building owners could participate in the rebate match program, and a revolving loan fund provided businesses and commercial building owners with low, fixed-interest rate loans with 1- to 10-year terms.
Over the course of the grant, Energize Phoenix adapted to challenges in staffing, budgets, communication, and market conditions by remaining flexible and engaging staff and customers. Other lessons learned include the following:
- Stay in touch with stakeholders. Maintaining an open line of communication among stakeholders helped facilitate solutions and avoid program stagnation when issues arose. For example, when faced with uncertainty regarding utility rebate budgets and a subsequent delay in the commercial program, Energize Phoenix established regular communication between utility company representatives and program staff.
- Communicate smarter. Project information should reach partners in an efficient manner. For example, Energize Phoenix used a SharePoint website to streamline communication with its partners and eliminate the need to constantly email a project spreadsheet back and forth.
- Reinforce program legitimacy. Solicitors unaffiliated with Energize Phoenix approached customers with an unrelated energy efficiency pitch, which confused customers when they were approached by program-approved contractors. When customers contacted the city to confirm that Energize Phoenix was legitimate, staff took the opportunity to promote the program and legitimize the program contractors who approached them. Community outreach, strong messaging, and program consistency added further legitimacy to the program and eased customer reservations about undertaking energy upgrades.
- Watch the market. Be prepared to adjust program offerings based on fluctuations in the marketplace. Economic challenges in the housing and commercial lending markets between 2010 and 2012 prevented potential commercial financing projects from getting off the ground. As a result, Energize Phoenix redirected money from finance to commercial rebate activities, and six commercial projects were able to proceed in a timely manner.
While Energize Phoenix has completed all of its original program activities, APS rebate programs will continue to offer rebates to commercial and residential customers, and mechanisms are now in place to ensure that customers and contractors will continue to engage in energy efficiency work:
- The City of Phoenix will manage the principal and interest from commercial loan repayments, and once all loans have been completely paid, the city will direct any unused loan loss reserve funds toward future energy efficiency projects.
- The City of Phoenix Neighborhood Services Division, a separate city entity, has created consumer energy savings videos and will expand its “Neighborhood College” curriculum to include courses with sustainability experts provided to Phoenix residents at no cost.
- "Energize Phoenix: Collecting and Using Data to Improve the Program" (May 20, 2011)
- "Better Buildings Grantees: Green Zones" (November 9, 2010)