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As seasons change and temperatures rise and fall, many households look for ways to make their homes healthier, more comfortable, and more affordable to cool, heat, and operate throughout the year. Energy efficiency provides a well-established pathway for achieving each of these goals, but a common obstacle to accelerating American investment in home energy efficiency is the up-front cost of purchasing and installing energy-efficient appliances, ENERGY STAR-qualified heating and cooling equipment, solar power systems, and other home upgrades. This obstacle is especially prevalent among low- and moderate-income households, who spend a disproportionately high share of their income on energy costs, yet often lack the resources—or the ability to access financing from traditional lending institutions—to pay for efficiency improvements that could alleviate this financial burden.
EMPOWERING HOMEOWNERS TO MAKE HOME ENERGY UPGRADES
To overcome this barrier in Florida—where a hot, humid climate can send utility bills soaring when temperatures rise—St. Lucie County used $2.9 million in seed funding from the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Better Buildings Neighborhood Program (BBNP) to create the Solar and Energy Loan Fund (SELF). SELF is an independent, non-profit organization that operates a variety of clean energy financing programs to help low- and moderate-income households in Florida access low-cost capital for sustainable home improvement projects. Since its creation in 2010, SELF has enabled more than 600 households to affordably upgrade their homes and lower their energy costs. SELF leveraged DOE’s initial funding to attract additional capital investment, including mission-driven investments from community banks, foundations, impact investors, faith-based organizations, and worldwide crowdfunding. In 2016, SELF surpassed $5 million in total lending for sustainable home upgrades for Florida homeowners, with two-thirds of the lending activity in low- and moderate-income census tracts, and 40% for women. Completed upgrades included high-efficiency air conditioning systems, weatherization measures, window and roof repair or replacement, and solar water heaters and photovoltaic systems. SELF also finances climate resilience measures to protect homes from wind and water damage.
SELF’s flagship lending instrument is the “Rebuilding and Empowering Underserved Communities” Program, which guides homeowners through every stage of the home energy upgrade process: SELF partners with local governments and utilities to offer free home energy assessments, assists homeowners to identify the best options for improving their home’s efficiency, and offers below-market rate loans to finance appropriate energy upgrades. As a certified Community Development Financial Institution, SELF invests in Florida’s communities in other ways as well, providing workforce development through green technology trainings and increasing community awareness around energy and sustainability best practices through educational events. SELF has also developed a complementary Property-Assessed Clean Energy program for both residential and commercial clients.
“DOE played a fundamental role in creating the SELF organization, which has subsequently leveraged an additional $6 million of non-governmental funds and scaled the program to 58 jurisdictions in Florida,” said Doug Coward, executive director of SELF.
BETTER BUILDINGS NEIGHBORHOOD PROGRAM
St. Lucie County was one of 41 competitively-selected grantees under the Better Buildings Neighborhood Program, which launched in June 2010 through an investment of more than $500 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. BBNP funds were used by recipient communities to jump start local, self-sustaining energy efficiency markets in the private sector. St. Lucie County was one of 22 grantees to use BBNP resources to establish a revolving loan fund to increase the availability and attractiveness of financing for energy efficiency projects. In 2015, an independent evaluation reported that BBNP successfully spurred $1.3 billion in economic activity and created 10,000 jobs across the country; projects financed by BBNP-supported programs are expected to save consumers an estimated $850 million in energy costs over the lifetime of the efficiency measures adopted.
The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) success stories highlight the positive impact of its work with businesses, industry partners, universities, research labs, and other entities.