You are here

Seattle, Washington

Community Power Works

Location: Seattle, Washington
Seed Funding: $20 million
Target Building Types: Residential, commercial, and institutional
Learn More:

View Presentations:
Community Power Works – Good Jobs, Green Jobs Western Regional Conference
Community Power Works for Small Business
Community Power Works: How Seattle Is Creating Jobs and Saving Energy May 4, 2011

Seattle Makes Energy Efficiency a Community-Wide Venture

Seattle is a very diverse city with a variety of languages, cultures, and income levels. By working with a broad array of community partners, tapping into local non-profit groups, providing a variety of incentives, and showing contractors the "high road," Seattle has built a program to meet its energy efficiency and carbon reduction goals.

With $20 million in seed funding from the U.S. Department of Energy's Better Buildings Neighborhood Program, the City of Seattle and its program partners created Community Power Works to provide a comprehensive energy efficiency program that combines outreach, financing, and incentives with a qualified workforce. Community Power Works helps existing residential, commercial, and institutional buildings across the city lower their energy use by 15-45% percent and reduce their corresponding greenhouse gas emissions.

Driving Demand: Forty Community Partner Brains are Better Than One
Workforce Development: Taking the High Road on Job Creation
Financing: Greening a Whole Community
Financing: Creative Financing Incentives

Forty Community Partner Brains are Better Than One

From the start, Community Power Works staff worked with community leaders and stakeholder organizations such as local energy providers and community development boards. Community Power Works meets regularly with these groups to prevent duplicate efforts and better reach Seattle's diverse populations with energy efficiency upgrades.

With more than 40 public, private, and non-profit partners, Community Power Works is harnessing their expertise and infrastructure to save time and resources. By connecting with these partners, Community Power Works was able to develop effective messages and techniques, so that Community Power Works' target communities understood and embraced the program. With the Seattle Mayor's Office helping to facilitate the process, groups with previously divergent interests negotiated more effectively, gained a sense of ownership in the program, and came to resolutions that allowed the program to move forward quickly.

Community Power Works partners with organizations such as Working Green and the Environmental Coalition of South Seattle. These programs help overcome language barriers that have prevented participation in energy efficiency programs, thanks to their expertise in 15 languages, including Spanish, Vietnamese and Korean. Community Power Works is also supporting a campaign that offers incentives to local nonprofit organizations for promoting energy efficiency upgrades among their members.

Taking the High Road on Job Creation

Because the program seeks to create and retain high-quality jobs, Community Power Works and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn convened stakeholders representing labor, community, training, and contractor organizations to develop the Community High-Road Agreement. This agreement guides workforce standards, wages, hiring requirements, and quality standards for workers supporting Community Power Works for Home, the program's single-family residential program. With the Community High-Road Agreement, Community Power Works helps create jobs that provide a "living wage," an hourly wage mandated by the agreement with benefits are verified by the program to ensure compliance.

Contractors are accepted into a Community High-Road Contractor Pool if they meet a certain level of weighted factors, which include continuing education for their employees, apprenticeship support, and employee benefits. One year into the program, 15 contractors had been accepted into the pool. Community Power Works has an extensive quality assurance protocol to ensure energy upgrades perform as expected. Contractors are supported with a low-interest credit advance from program lenders for up to 50% of the total value of the upgrade. This gives contractors capital to reduce the high up-front costs that might have prevented small or disadvantaged businesses from performing energy efficiency upgrades before.

For large commercial upgrades, the city joined forces with Emerald Cities Seattle (ECS), a public-private partnership of civic, community, and business leaders working together to address the issues of carbon emissions, energy waste in the built environment, equitable opportunities, and healthy communities. With similar workforce goals to the Community High-Road Agreement, ECS developed a Community Workforce Agreement for work on large commercial energy upgrades.

Greening a Whole Community

Community Power Works developed a flexible approach for residential energy efficiency upgrades that streamlined incentives and rebates from several different entities into one program. Community Power Works is making upgrades accessible for single-family homes by discounting the home energy evaluation from $400 down to $95 and by providing rebates for residential energy efficiency upgrades. The program has also created the structure to make upgrades more accessible to traditionally under-represented populations by tying financing to the homeowners' bill-paying history, rather than credit score.

Community Power Works is supporting energy efficiency upgrades to low-income homeowners and multifamily residential buildings through a grant to the City of Seattle Office of Housing's HomeWise program for low-income weatherization.

Community Power Works is also providing incentives and assistance to small businesses, large commercial buildings, municipal buildings, and medical centers. Once large commercial buildings have an energy evaluation, building owners enter into a savings contract with MacDonald-Miller Facility Solutions for the identified upgrades. The contractor then guarantees the level of monthly utility savings and completes the work. Owners have the option to pay for the services with savings on their monthly Seattle Steam utility bills.

The municipal buildings' energy efficiency upgrades are being funded through municipal bonds. The four medical centers were awarded up to $75,000 each in matching grants for development of Strategic Energy Management Plans (SEMPs), which include an extensive energy evaluation and recommendations for the most cost-effective upgrades. The medical centers are also receiving Community Power Works grants toward the cost of implementing energy saving measures identified in their SEMPs.

Creative Financing Incentives

Lack of access to affordable financing is often a deterrent to making energy efficiency improvements. Community Power Works created several innovative financing solutions to overcome this barrier.

Community Power Works established incentives for homeowners—up to $4,200—based on the energy savings associated with their home upgrades. For example, homeowners that achieve more than 30 percent energy savings will receive $2,500 off their upgrades. Community Power Works also established a $1,200 rebate for homeowners who switch from oil to a high-efficiency heating system—encouraging adoption of a measure with both high energy and carbon savings—as well as a $500 rebate for homeowners who decommission their oil tank.

The program established a Carbon Reduction Incentive Fund to help educate owners of large commercial buildings and hospitals on the difference between carbon and energy savings, and created incentives for them to choose energy efficiency upgrades that also result in carbon reductions. The program assigns a dollar value to the carbon emission reductions resulting from the energy efficiency upgrades in these facilities and gives the amount back to the commercial building or hospital owner to reduce the cost of the upgrades.

Community Power Works has partnered with Craft3 (formerly Enterprise Cascadia) and Puget Sound Cooperative Credit Union to offer low-interest financing options for homeowners. The program also set up a revolving loan fund through Craft3 that allows customers to pay off their loans through their Seattle City Light electric utility bills. Large commercial companies also have the option of paying for their energy upgrades on their Seattle Steam Company utility bills.


Adam Buick

U.S. Department of Energy
Better Buildings Neighborhood Program