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Clean Energy Works Portland: A Model For Retrofit Projects

June 4, 2010 - 4:34pm


A program developed by the city of Portland, Ore., is proving to be a model of public and private collaboration for large-scale home retrofit projects throughout the country.

Clean Energy Works Portland (CEWP) seeks to cut energy costs for residents, create green jobs and slash greenhouse gases by retrofitting 500 homes in the Portland area by this fall. 

The program aims to provide homeowners access to low-interest loans for residential energy efficiency improvements at no upfront costs.

Loans for projects ranging from hot-water system improvements to insulation are repaid through utility bills. Energy consultants are assigned to residents to help homeowners through the process.

Since CEWP was implemented last year, about 250 homes have been weatherized or are scheduled for improvements.

The program’s progress is due to partnerships fostered between governments, non-profits, utilities and contractors, says Susan Anderson, director of Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. “Public and private partnerships are the foundation for the success of Clean Energy Works Portland.”

Merging forces

The pilot program is helping the city fulfill its pledge to cut carbon emissions by 80 percent over the next 40 years.

“By putting folks back to work, we are meeting our carbon reduction goals,” says Lisa Libby, Planning and Sustainability Director to Portland Mayor Sam Adams.

Libby says the idea for CEWP gained momentum in early 2009 when Adams merged two disparate city departments: the community development-oriented Bureau of Planning and the Office of Sustainable Development, which focused on energy and waste issues. “By bringing those two together, we had the opportunity to run with big, systemic changes,” Libby says.

Libby says officials asked each other how they could make the city greener and generate economic opportunities for all. One solution, she says, was to focus on improving home energy efficiency on a community-wide scale.

“What would it take to move this forward…and have it work in a matter of months? Immediately, we accelerated talks with Energy Trust of Oregon and the local utilities,” Libby says.

Energy Trust, an independent non-profit established by the state in 1999, helped Portland develop a framework for the program and provided about $1,200 to $1,500 in funding for each participant.

The non-profit, which specializes in developing energy efficiency and renewable energy solutions, assisted the city in “all aspects of service delivery,” says Jan Schaeffer of Energy Trust. Energy Trust assigned and trained Energy Advocates, who walked residents through the CEWP program by helping with loan paperwork, overseeing the contractor bid process and conducting quality assurance.

In addition, Energy Trust helped Portland by providing website and call center support, processing incentive checks, scheduling home performance assessments and finding contractors.

Schaeffer hails the relationship between Portland and Energy Trust.  “Our collaboration has been very special, without defining hierarchy or boundaries; we think it’s the Oregon way.”

A $1.1 million Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant and an additional $1 million in city funds helped get CEWP up and running. Portland chose Shorebank Enterprise Cascadia, a nonprofit community bank, to manage the program’s funds and to provide low interest energy upgrade loans to residents.

From financing to utilities to community groups

“The financial mechanism was the missing piece,” Libby says. Libby says CEWP “took a leap of faith on the utilities part,” and the city created “really strong partnerships” with Pacific Power, NW Natural and Portland General Electric.

The three utilities simplified the borrowing program for residents by allowing homeowners to repay loans through their power bills. “Utilities have a direct link to their customers, a boon for marketing; and are singularly able to provide on-bill loan repayment,” Schaeffer says.

Libby praises the work of Green For All, a national organization that helped develop the agreement. “They provided a huge lift for us,” she says.Faith-based groups, contractors, labor unions, civil rights organizations and city officials joined forces to create the Community Workforce Agreement, which ensures weatherization businesses owned by minorities and women have equal access to CEWP projects. Libby says the agreement, which was passed by Portland’s City Council, helped “folks who have been impacted the most by the recession.”

Jumpstarting business

CEWP has boosted business for several Portland-area contractors such as Imagine Energy. “We've tested about 35 [homes] to date, and I think we'll soon have completed or be in contract with about half of those,” says Jonathan Cohen of Imagine Energy.

Cohen says his team finds ways to save homeowners energy and money including duct sealing and replacement, adding insulation and installing heat pumps and furnaces. Imagine Energy also makes “infrastructure improvements like electrical and plumbing systems,” Cohen says.

The increase in business from CEWP has enabled Imagine Energy to hire more workers. “We've added several weatherization labor jobs, one home performance technician and one project management job,” Cohen says.

Imagine Energy has become more organized due to the increased workload, improving employee performance and customer satisfaction, Cohen says. “We've needed to streamline our processes to be more efficient, which has benefitted our team as well as the customer's experience.”  He says CEWP is good for contractors like Imagine Energy because it “gives enough consistent leads and work to scale their small businesses, creating jobs.”

CEWP has established “a brand that homeowners can trust to come to for solutions-based energy and comfort improvements for their homes,” Cohen says. 

He says Portland residents are more willing to make their homes more energy efficiency as a result of the program. “The no-up-front cost and on-bill financing mechanisms make it easy for homeowners to say yes to improvements that they have been putting off.”

Template for success

The success of CEWP is serving as a model for the statewide Clean Energy Works Oregon (CEWO), which is being funded through a $20 million EECBG award. “This program [CEWO] expands the successful work of the City of Portland, which has already been undertaken and started through their local residential efficiency pilot program and takes what they have learned, here, to other communities across our state,” Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski said at a press conference.

Kulongoski signed the Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Technology Bill (EEAST) into law last year, which outlines the framework for the commercial and residential weatherization program.  Energy Trust and Portland will partner with the state in developing CEWO.

“The City of Portland will be in the lead pulling collaborators together to serve homes under CEWO,” Schaeffer says. “The Oregon Department of Energy will lead commercial efforts,” she adds.

Schaeffer says Energy Trust work closely with Oregon as CEWO retrofit projects launch. “We expect to provide residential service delivery for CEWO and are in ongoing discussions about lessons learned from the CEWP pilot that can be applied to design of CEWO.”

CEWP and the partnerships that helped make it successful will provide a template for other communities, says Anderson of Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability.

“As cities plan similar efforts, they can look to this model for lessons on a scalable design for energy-efficiency programs and a community workforce agreement that addresses equal access to green jobs,” Anderson says.

Libby says the program’s success is due to partnerships between government, utilities, businesses and communities. “No single entity could have achieved this on their own.”