Three More Reasons to Smile with SCEP

By Dr. Henry C. McKoy

Dr. Henry McKoy headshot

I have always heard that the best things come in threes. If that is the case, then I am hopeful that this month’s newsletter will make you smile. We are living in a historical moment with unprecedented investments being made to transition our nation towards clean energy, towards deploying new technologies that will make homes more comfortable and energy efficient, while fighting climate change and saving people money.  

Yet our nation faces a Catch-22 type situation when it comes to pushing this transition. It is often too expensive for homeowners (especially those in historically disadvantaged communities) to upgrade their homes to invest in energy efficiency. There is also a shortage of qualified green building professionals and contractors across the country who can conduct audits, provide useful recommendations, and/or install these upgrades. Adding to all this, new buildings are being built every day, yet how many are being built with energy efficiency and resilience in mind?

The Office of State and Community Energy Programs (SCEP) is addressing all of these issues—and more—through three major initiatives made possible by the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law: rebate programs, workforce training, and building energy code upgrades.  Are you ready to smile?

The Home Energy Rebate Programs will make energy efficiency and electric technology upgrades more affordable for more households than ever before. Technologies like ENERGY STAR®-certified heat pumps, heat pump water heaters, insulation and air sealing, ventilation, and smart thermostats can provide better heating and cooling services to homes all around the country.

Beyond simply making these funds available to states, territories, and Indian Tribes to deploy localized Home Energy Rebate Programs, our teams worked to identify program guidance that will encourage localized programs to allocate at least half of the program funds to households with incomes at or below 80% of their area median income (AMI).  For example, in my home state of North Carolina, 40% of households have incomes below 80% AMI, which means at least 40.5% of the state’s Home Energy Rebates funds should reach these homes. This also includes a requirement that at least an additional 10% of funds be allocated to reach low-income multifamily buildings.

We have also asked states and territories to design their programs so that household consumers will not need to front the cost of their upgrades and then wait for rebates, but rather receive these rebates as up-front discounts. By lowering the cost barrier, we create an increased demand for efficient appliances and upgrades. To ensure that we have a qualified workforce to implement and install these new improvements, we have to train them.

Our workforce development and contractor training programs provide the investment to build a diverse, highly-skilled green building professional and contractor base at an accelerated pace. As a result of these programs, workers across the country will be able implement the newest technologies and best practices in energy efficiency while advising customers and communities about these energy improvements.

This month, we announced the availability of our Career Skills Training Grants— $10 million for nonprofit partnerships between industry and labor to teach students through classroom instruction and on-the-job training for the purpose of obtaining an industry-related certification to install energy-efficient building technologies. This training grant, coupled with our recently announced Contractor Training Grants, Building Training and Assessment Centers (BTAC), and the upcoming Energy Auditor Training Grant Program, means that we’re covering all bases to have the workforce we need for much-needed energy upgrades.

This trained workforce is crucial to the implementation of the Home Energy Rebate Programs, which will make it easier and more attractive for customers to invest in energy efficiency upgrades.

To facilitate long-term change and encourage the building of energy-efficient new and renovated residential and commercial buildings, DOE released program guidance and opened applications for $400 million in formula funding to improve traditional building energy codes that reduce utility bills, increase the efficiency and resilience of buildings, and reduce carbon emissions. The funding is available through a formula allocation to states and territories to adopt, implement, enforce, and measure compliance for the latest building energy codes and zero energy codes. If all states updated to the latest model codes, together they would save at least 12 quads of site energy over 30 years—an amount equivalent to the energy used by all the households in the United States over a 2-year period—along with almost 2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide in climate benefits over the same 30 years. 

By pushing for new buildings and renovations to be built to codes that are energy efficient, we raise the floor for commercial and residential building stocks across the country.

All three initiatives combined—Home Energy Rebate Programs, workforce training, and building code upgrades—will spur the demand for more materials, services, and appliances. We create a need to source products, components, and labor—all of which spur U.S. job and economic growth.

SCEP is at the forefront in advancing these three major opportunities to ultimately shift the energy efficiency landscape. With everyone’s efforts combined, we can ensure America’s conversion to energy efficiency rises to a whole new level. And that’s not all. This month, we launched the second round of Communities LEAP (Local Energy Action Program) to work directly with disadvantaged communities and communities with historical ties to fossil fuel industries through technical assistance to take direct control of their clean energy future. 

And I suspect that will come with a lot more smiles as well.