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University Park, Maryland, Plans to STEP Into New Communities

Photo of three brick buildings with flowering trees around them.Based on its success in University Park, Maryland, the Small Town Energy Program for University Park (STEP-UP) is expanding into surrounding communities to demonstrate that the program is replicable and scalable beyond University Park.

In just a few weeks, the rebranded "STEP" program will launch in three new diverse communities in Maryland—Hyattsville, College Heights Estates, and Riverdale Park. To prepare for this expansion, program organizers analyzed the successes and challenges they faced with the quick implementation of the program in University Park. They also hired a program impact and evaluation consultant to find out more about the new communities' demographics and to conduct focus groups to gain a better understanding for how to tailor the program to have maximum impact within these communities.

Having more time and some experience under their belts is helping program staff strategically launch STEP. "This is a great opportunity to put the 'aim' into 'ready, aim, fire,'" said Chuck Wilson, program director for STEP-UP. "I feel at the program outset for us there was not a lot of time, and it was more of 'ready, fire and when we get the chance we should aim!'"

Taking into account the program's successes in University Park and the information they learned about the new communities, STEP will:

  • Leverage existing resources. STEP-UP uses a list of contractors for energy efficiency upgrades that has been approved by Pepco, the local investor-owned utility; the Maryland Department of House and Community Development; and the Maryland Energy Administration. The program also provides a STEP-UP Energy Coach. This contact has been an essential support system for participants to ask questions about home energy evaluators, evaluation reports, contractors, and financial incentives.
  • Provide financial incentives. Understanding the need to reduce financial barriers, STEP and Pepco will offer rebates. STEP-UP has also arranged for a loan loss reserve from a local bank.
  • Utilize local sources for outreach. Because these are small towns, neighbor-to-neighbor outreach will be an inexpensive and effective way to engage participants. STEP-UP hired summer interns who will conduct neighborhood sweeps to let residents know about the opportunities available through STEP. The program will also work with select participants to publish their story in case study format for their neighbors to see.
  • Improve the accessibility of materials. STEP-UP is translating its outreach materials into Spanish and providing Spanish-speaking outreach staff for neighborhoods with diverse populations.
  • Analyze and share tested methodologies. STEP-UP will use actual lessons learned from this expansion to develop a tool kit. The tool kit resource will provide practical direction as well as template materials for other small towns to quickly and easily establish energy efficiency programs of their own.

Armed with a more complete understanding of these new communities and the tools to provide top-notch support, STEP-UP is on the path to improve the energy efficiency of these Maryland neighborhoods. Learn more about STEP-UP.