Faced with a utility system capacity challenge that would have required a new substation and additional power lines across their community, the environmentally conscious residents of Bainbridge Island, Washington, responded with a plan to show that the island’s existing infrastructure could support energy demand—if residents reduced energy use. With the help of $4.9 million in seed funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Neighborhood Program, what began as a grassroots community effort to conserve energy grew into the RePower Bainbridge program implemented by Conservation Services Group (CSG), which worked to reduce energy use, create jobs, and form a network of home performance contractors.
The grant was also used to introduce energy efficiency services to the City of Bremerton, Washington, a neighboring community with a lower-income demographic. RePower expanded on its initial goal of eliminating the need for a new substation and power lines on Bainbridge Island by reducing energy demand and creating jobs in the home performance industry in both communities.
RePower was designed to reduce energy use on Bainbridge Island through a combination of home energy assessments, direct installs, and home energy upgrades. For home energy assessments, RePower offered two options. As part of the free home energy check-up and local utility Puget Sound Energy’s HomePrintTM Assessment, a RePower energy advisor would conduct a visual assessment and provide a list of recommended improvements. Homeowners seeking a more in-depth assessment had another option: they could obtain a home energy assessment with an Energy Performance Score (EPS), which details how different systems in a home influence energy use.
RePower motivated Bainbridge Island homeowners by educating them about home performance issues and building science basics. To personalize this outreach, RePower researched what messages and services would best resonate with their target audience. The program also worked with community colleges to develop contractor training programs. By engaging homeowners and the local workforce, RePower successfully addressed Bainbridge Island’s immediate capacity issue, while also laying the foundation for continued energy efficiency work in both Bainbridge Island and Bremerton. Read more in the RePower final report.
(July 2010 to December 2013)
RePower encouraged energy upgrades through an approach that addressed community needs and provided education to both residents and the home performance workforce.
- Residential Program Design: Homeowners had two different options. The first was a free home energy assessment performed by a RePower energy advisor, who would provide a list of prioritized energy upgrade measures, recommend contractors, provide a list of available rebates, and offer direct installs, such as efficient light bulbs and low-flow showerheads. The other option was to receive a rebated energy assessment with an in-depth EPS, including a comparison of energy costs before and after the installation of recommended energy efficiency improvements.
- Marketing and Outreach: RePower customized its marketing and outreach strategies to address the different homeowner needs in Bainbridge Island and Bremerton. In Bainbridge, messaging focused on environmental stewardship, and an Island Energy Dashboard displayed real-time energy use in public spaces, such as local businesses and commuter ferries, to neighboring cities. Bremerton messaging emphasized job creation and reduced utility bills. Each location had its own community-specific website, and CSG employed a combination of print advertising, online ads, on-the-ground outreach (e.g., community-specific events, staffing a booth at the weekly farmer’s market), and case studies highlighting local energy champions to drive demand. One consumer education campaign included a free Home Energy IQ class, which taught home performance basics.
- Financing: Through a partnership with Kitsap Credit Union, the City of Bainbridge created an Energy Efficiency Loan Program that provided low-interest loans for energy efficiency work. To lower the barriers to completing energy improvements, Kitsap County, Washington, offered a $350 rebate to homeowners who completed the home energy assessment with EPS, and RePower provided $400 in RePower Rewards to customers who completed at least two of the recommended energy efficiency improvements prioritized following their energy assessment. When customers completed three of their prioritized energy efficiency improvements, they became eligible for an additional $450 Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® rebate offered by Puget Sound Energy.
- Workforce Development: RePower established a trade ally network for Kitsap County contractors and had a trade ally manager work with contractors and provide quality control in the field, oversee network growth, and enforce program specifications. Network members had access to subsidized or free trainings that included certification preparation, business and sales trainings, blower-door training, EPS training, and more. RePower also worked with Kitsap Community College to provide additional trainings and certify RePower contractors as future Building Performance Institute faculty. In total, the program helped to train 129 workers.
- Commercial Program Design: A total of 115 assessments were completed in commercial buildings, and the program plans to do further commercial work in the future.
RePower drove demand for energy efficiency upgrades by connecting with customers and contractors and adapting program approaches to their needs. Other lessons learned include the following:
- Establish a clear call to action. As an environmentally conscious community, Bainbridge Island was receptive to the call for energy conservation. Emphasizing reduced energy use as a way to avoid the need for substation and power line construction on Bainbridge Island provided community members with an effective, personal rationale for investing in upgrades.
- Tailor programs to each community. Successful messages should be unique to the community. Upfront research helped determine the types of messaging and program offerings that were most effective with Bainbridge Island and Bremerton homeowners, utilities, and stakeholders.
- Seek political support. RePower saw its greatest response rates through formal calls to action, event notices, and letters sent by the cities of Bainbridge Island and Bremerton. Materials sent with the official city post added credibility and gave residents the confidence to take action.
- Coordinate with contractors. RePower learned that engaging contractors and assessing their needs earlier in the process could have helped to avoid staff turnover and the need to retrain workers. Educating contractors about the program and obtaining their feedback could have helped staff identify training needs, in addition to establishing trust and clear expectations on both ends.
- Make it simple for the customer base. RePower’s most successful marketing event was a one-stop shop community event where homeowners could sign up, ask questions, meet contractors, obtain bids, schedule upgrades, and receive special discounts. It was also important to use clear and direct messaging, so that customers were not overwhelmed by more complicated descriptions of energy efficiency.
As the RePower program continues to move forward, the two cities will benefit from the trained workforce and informed customer base it established. With Kitsap County assuming ownership of RePower, the program will re-launch with the Washington State’s Community Energy Efficiency Program (CEEP) providing funding. As Kitsap County and RePower transition into the CEEP program network, the Washington State University Energy Program will temporarily provide operational support.
- CSG organized a RePower Leadership Committee to explore options for long-term program sustainability. Trade ally network contractors, utilities, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and citizen representatives offer input on potential local organizations to host the program, sources of long-term funding, expansion possibilities, and post-grant program design.
- RePower will continue to offer a similar range of services to participating customers, although work done by energy advisors will transition to contractors. The program also intends to expand into the multifamily and commercial sectors.
- Service areas will extend beyond Kitsap County into Callam and Jefferson Counties.