Thursday, January 10, 2013

Partnerships Bring Energy Efficiency to Vermont

This blog post comes to us from Erica Bradley, NeighborWorks Rural Initiative VISTA

Blowing insulation in an attic is a great way to keep
energy costs down.
NeighborWorks Western Vermont (NWWVT) is in new territory with their focus on energy efficiency, thanks to a grant by the Department of Energy, and recently, a new partnership with Green Mountain Power.

“We have suddenly become a major player in the energy initiative in Vermont, “said NWWVT executive director Ludy Biddle. 

The new partnership between NWWVT and Green Mountain Power (GMP) comes two years after the Department of Energy granted $4.2 million to NWWVT as part of the Better Buildings program. According to the Department of Energy website, the program targets efficiency improvements such as lighting, better insulation and more efficient heating and cooling. Another program area is educating customers about energy efficiency and how to finance upgrades.

Under the grant, NWWVT’s Home Efficiency Assistance Team (HEAT) Squad schedules audits of homes with a certified contractor who issues recommendations and a cost estimate. An energy advisor from the HEAT Squad can then go over the recommendations with the client, including financing options. Biddle said 1,000 homes have to be done over a three- year period in Rutland County, and so far they have completed over 500. Biddle said they are on track to meet the 1,000 home requirement by 2013.

The HEAT Squad’s work laid the foundation for the partnership to form with Green Mountain Power. “We’ve been helping the utilities not directly, but by providing outreach, customer service, loan products and all of the things a NeighborWorks housing organization does for its clients, we’ve been doing to enhance the participation in the efficiency programs,” Biddle said.

GMP, Biddle said, has an interest in providing good customer service, especially in Southern Vermont. The company was formerly a small energy company with a service area in the northern part of the state, but in August, 2012 bought Central Vermont Public Service and now serves southern Vermont as well.

From L to R: Ludy Biddle, executive director of NWWVT;
Jim Merriam, director of Efficiency Vermont;
Jonathan Dancing, BPI contractor/auditor;
United States Congressman Peter Welch (VT-D),
and Mary Powel, CEO of Green Mountain Power.
“There was concern in our part of the state that high paying jobs and the corporate presence would leave the county and go north, and once again Burlington would get all the good things and we would be left with very little,” she said.

The concerns were unfounded, Biddle said, and GMP made several promises, including investing in Rutland, making it the solar capital of the state, and designing the Energy Innovation Center. “I genuinely see action behind the promises they made,” Biddle said.

One of the promises, the innovation center, is now taking shape. GMP invited NWWVT and Efficiency Vermont in as partners, and the three organizations will share office space in the center. For now, the center is located in the Opera House in downtown Rutland. GMP is renovating the Eastman's Building and has plans to move the innovation center there after renovations are complete. The Eastman’s Building, Biddle said, has long been a sore spot in Rutland.

Biddle said the renovations to the Eastman’s Building represent another investment in Rutland. She expects they will be moved in by fall, 2013. She expects to locate at least two members of the HEAT Squad there.