To establish a market for energy efficiency upgrades in Kitsap County, Washington, the Washington Department of Commerce needed to address barriers including an untrained contractor network, a weak economy that left homeowners hesitant to take on debt, and overlapping utility service territories that made energy efficiency incentives overly complex. To address these barriers, the RePower Kitsap program focused on driving demand for comprehensive energy upgrades and supporting the local workforce with training and networking opportunities.
Using $2.6 million in seed funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Neighborhood Program, RePower Kitsap made comprehensive energy upgrades more accessible to single-family homeowners through utility incentives and energy efficiency financing options. RePower Kitsap coordinated with another Better Buildings Neighborhood Program partner in the county serving the larger cities of Bainbridge Island and Bremerton, Washington. The Washington Department of Commerce also coordinated with state energy programs in Alabama, Massachusetts, and Virginia to share information and learn from each other’s programs.
RePower Kitsap reached out to homeowners through a locally branded approach and increased access to energy efficiency services by offering no- or low-cost energy assessments. To provide homeowners with low-cost financing, RePower Kitsap worked with local credit unions to develop loan products for energy upgrades. By offering incentives that supplemented existing utility incentives, the program was also able to reduce initial costs and encourage homeowners to complete more comprehensive energy upgrades.
The program reduced workforce-related barriers by establishing a Trade Ally Network, which held monthly meetings that encouraged communication among contractors and with the program. Partnerships with local training providers were also successful in training contractors on standardized home performance specifications and quality assurance. In addition, the program encouraged real estate professionals and appraisers to use energy performance ratings that provide data on a house’s energy consumption and carbon emissions. This strategy aims to enhance the market value of homes with higher Energy Performance Score (EPS) ratings, further driving demand for energy improvements. Read more in the RePower Kitsap final report.
RePower Kitsap promoted energy upgrades in Kitsap County by connecting directly with local communities and facilitating communication among the program’s contractor base.
- Residential Program Design: To avoid duplicating services and confusing participants, RePower Kitsap coordinated with the RePower Bainbridge and Bremerton programs, which also promoted upgrades in the RePower Kitsap service area. Through RePower Kitsap, homeowners had two options for energy assessments.
- One option was a no-cost simple assessment offered through local contractors or Conservation Services Group energy advisors.
- Homeowners seeking a more detailed assessment could receive a full diagnostic energy assessment with an EPS. During the program’s first two years, homeowners who selected this second option were eligible for an instant rebate that covered nearly all of the assessment cost. For homeowners who completed three of the qualifying energy advisor-prioritized energy efficiency measures, Puget Sound Energy (PSE) offered a $400 Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® rebate.
- Marketing and Outreach: Working from the premise that trusted local organizations are most effective at motivating homeowners to take action, RePower Kitsap developed a locally branded marketing and outreach strategy. This included community partnerships, local outreach events, and advertising materials in public spaces (e.g., ferry terminals). RePower Kitsap staff also spoke at homeowners’ association, business group, and local economic development association meetings. Additional outreach included social marketing through Twitter, Facebook, and local websites such as Macaroni Kids Kitsap, a resource for family-friendly events happening in Kitsap County. Ultimately, most of RePower Kitsap’s participants learned about the program through local events, word-of-mouth, and contractors or assessors.
- Financing: RePower Kitsap partnered with Kitsap County Credit Union (KCU) to offer unsecured home improvement loans for up to $10,000 for five years and secured home equity loans for $10,001 to $50,000 for up to 15 years, with rates ranging from 4% to 5%. Later, the Puget Sound Cooperative Credit Union (PSCCU) offered loans up to $25,000 for up to 15 years, with rates from 4.25% to 8.74%. To encourage more comprehensive energy upgrades, the program offered a $400 incentive for homeowners who completed blower door testing and air sealing. A whole-house energy upgrade incentive of up to $3,500 was also available to homeowners who completed a package of three or more qualifying energy efficiency measures. These included a variety of weatherization, water heating, space heating and cooling, and renewable energy improvements.
- Workforce Development: RePower Kitsap strengthened its contractor base by establishing a Trade Ally Network, which held monthly brown-bag meetings to discuss program requirements, rebate structure, and other topics. These meetings gave contractors the opportunity to network and form working relationships. RePower Kitsap also partnered with the Washington State University (WSU) Energy Program, Earth Advantage, Cascade Natural Gas (CNG), and Olympic College’s Building Trades Program to offer a training program free of charge to trade allies. Trainings included a required Building Performance Institute and lead safety training, as well as building science and sales/professionalism classes.
To make upgrades accessible and attractive to homeowners, RePower Kitsap leveraged existing utility incentives and emphasized the program’s local nature. Other lessons learned include the following:
- Reduce initial costs with direct incentives. RePower Kitsap adopted incentives to qualify homes for PSE’s Home Performance with ENERGY STAR rebate. The program found that raising awareness of the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program was important for developing a sustainable market for comprehensive energy upgrades. RePower Kitsap also offered incentives to homeowners who are not eligible for utility incentives, such as those whose homes are heated with oil, propane, or wood.
- Raise awareness among real estate professionals. To promote the EPS ratings, RePower Kitsap partnered with Earth Advantage to train home inspectors on incorporating energy components in their work, provide free Sustainability Training for Accredited Real Estate Professionals (S.T.A.R) to real estate agents, and provide Certified Green Appraisal training to appraisers.
- Create a trusted local brand. Knowing that a program is locally run can encourage participants to move forward with energy assessments and upgrades. More than half of RePower Kitsap participants cited the program being local as a factor in their decision to complete upgrades.
- Integrate data collection and reporting systems. RePower Kitsap found that a centralized data collection and reporting system aided in compiling accurate and timely information, including conversion rates, numbers of completed assessments and upgrades, and upgrade costs.
RePower Kitsap plans to continue working with local stakeholders to sustain the program and the RePower brand:
- On January 1, 2014, the RePower Bainbridge and Bremerton and the RePower Kitsap programs combined into a single RePower Kitsap brand. Kitsap County will act as the program’s local sponsor, coordinating local outreach and providing policy direction.
- The WSU Energy Program will continue to offer services to the Kitsap County Trade Ally Network, such as marketing, rebate fulfillment, customer support, and technical assistance, in addition to training opportunities and quality assurance.
- To create longer term demand for the EPS and upgraded homes, Kitsap County is continuing its efforts to add fields for energy upgrades and performance home scores to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) used in residential real estate.
- Homeowners will continue to have access to energy efficiency financing and incentives. Energy efficiency financing will continue to be a part of the PSCCU and KCU home improvement loan offerings. PSE and CNG will continue to offer rebates, including the PSE whole-house air-sealing incentive.
PRESENTATIONS & STORIES
- "Increase Comfort and Lower Energy Costs With Energy Efficiency Improvements"
- "Overview of RePower Kitsap" (April 2012)
- "Take the First Step to Improve Your Energy Efficiency"
- "RePower Kitsap Helps S.T.A.R. Program Gain Momentum in Washington"
- "Skilled, Local Contractors Provide Quality Improvements for Your Home"