Seattle, Washington, is a diverse, environmentally aware city with a variety of languages, cultures, and income levels. Leveraging relationships with public, private, and nonprofit partners, the city set out to reduce carbon emissions, increase energy upgrades, and create living-wage green jobs. Using $20 million in seed funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Neighborhood Program, the city launched Community Power Works (CPW) to promote upgrades to a wide range of residential and business communities.

CPW focused on a broad range of building types—from single-family and multifamily residences to small and large commercial entities, to hospitals and municipal buildings. CPW’s comprehensive program combined outreach, accessible financing, and workforce development to help achieve the city’s carbon and energy reduction goals.

Defining Characteristics
Approaches Taken
Key Takeaways
What’s Next?
Additional Resources

Defining Characteristics

CPW worked with community leaders and stakeholders to coordinate efforts throughout the program. Community Power Works for Home offered online support for single-family customers and contractors, incentives to supplement existing utility programs, financing options, and subsidized energy assessments. The Seattle Office of Housing also provided similar measures free of charge to multifamily building owners. CPW’s commercial program offered support to small businesses, large commercial buildings, municipal buildings, and hospitals. CPW developed a Community High-Road Agreement to create living-wage jobs with benefits and ensure quality upgrade work. CPW required all participating contractors to sign the agreement, which helped to develop the local contractor workforce and promote job creation in historically underserved communities.


(July 2010 to June 2014)

Approaches Taken

CPW raised awareness of energy upgrades among large and small businesses, contractors, and homeowners of all income levels.

  • Residential Program Design: Community Power Works for Home made the energy efficiency upgrade process easier and more accessible for homeowners with online and phone support for customers and contractors and a home upgrade coordinator who answered questions, reviewed bids, and managed the contractor network. To participate, homeowners completed an energy assessment, which the city’s municipal utility, Seattle City Light (SCL), offered at the discounted price of $95. The program also partnered with the Seattle Office of Housing HomeWise program, which provided upgrades for low-income homeowners and multifamily buildings.
  • Marketing and Outreach: CPW used several marketing strategies, including direct mail to homeowners, financial incentives, door-to-door canvassing, and collaboration with existing utility programs. In 2012, CPW conducted a direct mail campaign to owners of oil-heated homes, who make up 16% of Seattle residents with single-family homes, and increased the number of program applicants from oil-heated homes in the area to 50%.
  • Financing: Through partnerships with local lenders, CPW offered homeowners three different loan products. Craft3, a nonprofit community development financial institution, offered an income-qualified loan at a 3.49% annual percentage rate (APR) and a loan that did not require income qualification at 4.49% APR. Both products provided the option of on-bill loan repayment through SCL electricity bills. CPW also partnered with Puget Sound Cooperative Credit Union, which offered variable interest loans and the option for homeowners to expand the loan to cover home remodels. As for incentives, CPW initially had a Carbon Reduction Incentive Fund (CRIF), which offered incentives based on a home’s carbon savings. However, CRIF proved difficult to measure and explain to homeowners, while valuing carbon savings yielded only modest incentives. In January 2012, CPW transitioned to the Energy Savings Incentive (ESI), which is based on the estimated percent reduction in energy use.
  • Workforce Development: In collaboration with a diverse group of stakeholders, CPW developed a Community High-Road Agreement (HRA), a workforce agreement that focused on providing good jobs, equitable access, and quality work. For local workers, the HRA encouraged living-wage jobs with benefits, training opportunities, and safety guarantees. The HRA also ensured that all types of businesses and workers, including those in historically underrepresented groups, had access to the program’s economic opportunities. The HRA included quality assurance mechanisms to promote high-quality energy efficiency improvements. CPW also partnered with Emerald Cities Seattle—a public-private-nonprofit partnership working to address carbon pollution, energy waste, and healthy communities—to develop a Community Workforce Agreement in the commercial sector and track progress towards meeting its goals.
  • Commercial Program Design: Community Power Works for Small Businesses offered a full suite of support services, including free energy assessments, support, and troubleshooting through a business upgrade coordinator, as well as translation services for non-English speaking business owners. For large commercial buildings, the program offered rebates based on carbon savings, in addition to a financing package that included an on-bill payment option through Seattle Steam, a local commercial steam provider. After finishing an energy assessment, large commercial building owners could enter an agreement with an energy services company that guaranteed monthly utility savings. Community Power Works for Hospitals offered carbon reduction incentives and matching grants for strategic energy management plan development. CPW also completed energy upgrades in municipal buildings.

Key Takeaways

By streamlining its program and addressing the needs of a diverse mix of customers, CPW made energy upgrades more accessible to Seattle residents and businesses. Lessons learned include the following:

  • Build long-term relationships. To encourage upgrades in large commercial buildings, CPW found presenting the program in terms of long-term support helped establish trust and reduce perceived risk. It is important to achieve continuity by building upon and improving efforts based on program experience.
  • Expand the eligibility pool to maximize promotion. Initially, the CPW service area included central and southeast Seattle. Expanding to include all single-family households within Seattle city limits simplified marketing efforts and increased the number of potential participants.
  • Remember one size does not fit all. When working with a variety of commercial buildings, promoting the same energy improvement project or provider to all participants can overlook the needs and requirements of individual buildings. CPW focused on how different building owners could benefit from individualized improvements.
  • Jump start projects in the pipeline. Commercial building owners took advantage of program support to supplement energy efficiency projects already under consideration or in the pipeline. CPW’s support, however, helped building owners to implement those upgrades more quickly.
  • Streamline the program. Taking into account customer and contractor feedback, CPW worked with its implementation partners to customer management and program reporting.

What's Next?

To help the City of Seattle continue to work toward its energy efficiency and broader carbon neutrality goals, CPW has transitioned program administration to a nonprofit organization, Clean Energy Works.

  • Clean Energy Works will expand the program throughout the SCL territory, offering financing and program services to all single-family homes and SCL-served multifamily buildings up to four units.
  • CPW will continue to serve oil-heated homes, which utility rebate programs do not currently serve, and leverage the HRA to manage its contractor base and support living-wage jobs.

Additional Resources

Case Studies, Interviews, & Stories