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Santa Barbara County, California


Location: Santa Barbara County, California
Seed Funding: $2.4 million
Target Building Type: Residential
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Santa Barbara Pairs With California's Energy Upgrade Program to Get Results

It may seem obvious why buildings in extreme hot and cold climates need to be energy efficient to improve comfort, but Santa Barbara County, California, is showing communities that homes and commercial buildings in even the most temperate regions can benefit from energy upgrades too. Santa Barbara County created the Elective Municipal Programs to Optimize Water, Energy and Renewables (emPowerSBC) program to help home and business owners increase building energy efficiency by at least 10% to help meet California's statewide goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 15% by 2020 and 80% by 2050.

Launched on Earth Day 2010, emPowerSBC is designed to take advantage of strong local demand for home upgrades by addressing two main barriers for homeowners: 1) accessing funds to cover upfront costs, and 2) navigating a complicated energy efficiency market. With $2.4 million in seed funding from the U.S. Department of Energy's Better Buildings Neighborhood Program and a partnership with Energy Upgrade California—another Better Buildings partner serving nearby Los Angeles County—emPowerSBC is providing affordable loans to finance energy efficiency and water conservation improvements eligible under Energy Upgrade California. The program also serves as a local, personal presence to coordinate outreach, education, and workforce development efforts.

Driving Demand: Partnerships Help Homeowners Navigate Options
Workforce Development: Creating a Market for Jobs

Partnerships Help Homeowners Navigate Options

Through Energy Upgrade California, homeowners sign up for an energy evaluation from an approved Home Energy Rating System (HERS) rater and are provided a list of recommended upgrades. A Web portal maintained by Energy Upgrade California pulls together the rebates offered for upgrades from heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems and attic insulation to water-saving fixtures from federal, state, municipal, and private sources. Homeowners then work through the contractor or contact the service provider directly for rebate redemption.

While rebates help make whole-house upgrades more affordable, emPowerSBC knows that many residents need help financing the remaining balance of an upgrade project. Therefore, emPowerSBC is providing affordable loans to cover the gap.

In addition to offering loans to make energy upgrades more affordable, emPowerSBC is also creating partnerships with community organizations to get the word out about energy efficiency. The program is coordinating its branding and marketing efforts with Energy Upgrade California and plans to target residents and businesses at all income levels and geographic locations within the county. These partnerships will help homeowners navigate through all the energy efficiency service and resource options available to them and participate in a unified energy efficiency program across the state.

Creating a Market for Jobs

With approximately 40% of the Santa Barbara local contractor workforce underemployed, emPowerSBC is creating a niche it hopes will stimulate both direct and indirect jobs in the energy efficiency field. To develop more energy experts to be the program's front line sales force, Energy Upgrade California is offering a substantial discount on training programs.

Over the last two years, more than 200 professionals have been trained in energy efficiency marketing, energy evaluation techniques, and installations. Energy experts wishing to become emPowerSBC providers must be licensed with the California State License Board, obtain insurance to satisfy utility minimum requirements, participate in trainings, and sign a participation agreement.


Angie Hacker

U.S. Department of Energy
Better Buildings Neighborhood Program