Energy efficiency is not a new concept to Oregonians; the state has a long history of progressive energy policy. More recently, the state wanted to marry its need for weatherization of more than 500,000 homes with a transformation of Oregon’s home performance industry, by creating jobs with family-supporting wages and health benefits.
The City of Portland used $20 million in seed funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Neighborhood Program to expand its pilot program, Clean Energy Works Portland, into Clean Energy Works Oregon (CEWO). The statewide program featured low-interest financing and incentives, free energy assessments, assistance from energy advisors, and on-bill loan repayment through heating utilities. The program has also broken new ground in the energy efficiency financing arena.
CEWO was designed to test whether comprehensive energy efficiency packages would encourage more homeowners to complete home energy upgrades. Homeowners received free energy assessments; assistance from energy advisors; and low-interest, long-term financing and rebates to reduce upfront costs. Through on-bill repayment, Craft3, CEWO’s primary lender, expanded access to credit by using a homeowner’s utility bill payment history as a factor in loan qualification. Since its pilot program, CEWO has introduced greater choice and flexibility to consumers by adding multiple lenders. The program has also decreased the amount of rebates it offers and eliminated costly credit enhancements, lowering the program’s direct costs associated with each home’s energy upgrade and improving the viability of the program’s business model.
The program further focused on workforce equity as a means of ensuring quality work and improving economic conditions in Oregon communities. Along with training and mentoring opportunities for contractors, CEWO and its stakeholders created apprenticeships for home weatherization installers. These efforts have helped drive equitable access to economic opportunity and diversify Oregon’s home performance industry. Read more in the CEWO final report.
CEWO made energy upgrades more accessible to homeowners; streamlined financing options for both customers and lenders; and invested in developing a qualified workforce.
- Residential Program Design: Based on the success of Clean Energy Works Portland, CEWO refined some of the processes used in the pilot program. For example, energy advisors were assigned where they could deliver the most value instead of being present at every assessment. The program worked to streamline the customer experience by connecting customers, contractors, and lenders and provided homeowners who took out loans with more repayment flexibility through on-bill financing.
- Marketing and Outreach: CEWO’s marketing materials focused on four key priorities for customers: comfort, qualified contractors, one-stop-shop service, and a variety of financing options. CEWO found direct mail campaigns to be the most successful strategy for lead generation and conversion. Another source of leads was marketing conducted by contractors, a practice CEWO encouraged with sales and other business skills classes for these professionals.
- Financing: During the pilot, CEWO partnered with Craft3, a nonprofit community development financing institution, to provide low-interest, long-term financing that participants could repay through their heating utility bill. CEWO simplified the loan application process and made more homeowners eligible for loans by using bill payment history as a proxy for credit. In addition, effective January 1, 2013, CEWO eliminated all credit enhancements to lenders, so the program is no longer paying fees for loan origination or funding loan loss reserves. With lenders becoming increasingly comfortable lending for energy efficiency projects, CEWO found that these incentives were no longer necessary to convince lenders to participate in the program.
- Workforce Development: CEWO developed and diversified its home performance workforce through a High Road Standards approach that made training opportunities and jobs with family-supporting wages and benefits accessible to a broader demographic of workers. A Community Workforce Agreement offered firms incentives for providing health insurance and contracting with underrepresented businesses. In addition to entry-level weatherization training, CEWO offered business coaching and peer mentoring to more established contractors.
- Commercial Program Design: CEWO participated in the state’s Cool Schools program, an initiative targeting energy efficiency in Oregon schools. Through its work with this program, CEWO helped bring energy efficiency upgrades to more than 1 million square feet of public school space. In 2012 and 2013, the City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability’s Bucks for Buildings made energy upgrades more accessible to Portland’s small businesses by offering cash rebates based on projected energy savings to participating contractors who worked in this underserved market.
CEWO learned that emphasizing comfort was the most compelling way to drive demand for home energy upgrades. Other lessons learned included the following:
- Standardize and align training. Schedule training efforts and their funding ahead of demand creation cycles, so that when contractors are hiring, trained workers are ready. CEWO also ensured that workers had access to consistent training, improving the quality of work completed and making financial markets more comfortable with lending for energy upgrades.
- Make contractors your communicators. CEWO found that when contractors and other partners helped promote the program, it reduced the amount the program had to invest in marketing. CEWO also developed marketing materials, such as a brochures, contractor marketing tools, and fact sheets, that contractors could access at no cost.
- Invest in better working conditions. Contractors found that improving upon working conditions by offering full-time employment, family-supporting wages, and training opportunities can yield tangible results, including increased quality of work, lower turnover rates, and business stability.
- Use free assessments to raise awareness. Offering homeowners free home energy assessments expanded community awareness of energy efficiency and led to word-of-mouth referrals.
- Use direct mail from known entities. Utility and government direct mail, especially pieces that come in window envelopes with the utility or municipal logo, implied endorsement of the program and inspired trust in customers.
Following the grant period, CEWO has worked to develop a revenue model that presents a path to self-sufficiency within two years. This model centers on the program taking in revenue where it had previously given it out. By providing value to contractors, consumers, utilities, and lenders, CEWO hopes that these sources will contribute to the program’s sustainability.
- In November 2013, contractors began paying CEWO for lead generation. CEWO is considering asking customers to pay for all or part of their energy assessments or for energy advisor services.
- In December 2013, CEWO and Craft3 successfully completed the sale of a loan portfolio, providing CEWO with liquidity necessary for continued operations. The sale will allow CEWO to continue operating until the program has finalized its state funding options.
- Other lenders have committed to providing the program with loan capital and indicated their interest in continuing to serve as energy upgrade financiers in additional geographic areas. Craft3, in particular, plans to continue serving as CEWO’s on-bill lender.
- To support its revenue model, CEWO plans to expand its offerings beyond home performance. Its strategic plan for the next three years includes the possibility of adding services, such as seismic upgrades, radon mitigation, solar energy, water conservation, and electric vehicle infrastructure.
- Final Technical Report
- Summary of Reported Data
- Data Dashboard
- Clean Energy Works High Road Outcomes: New Faces, Career Pathways and Increasing Influence
- "Set Your Home For Energize" (April 2012)
STORIES & INTERVIEWS
- "Clean Energy Works Coordinates Energy Efficiency Efforts"
- “On Bill Financing Program: On-Bill Financing Brings Lenders and Homeowners On Board"
- "Local Contractors Face Enviable Challenge"