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Clean Energy Works saves energy, generates jobs

Clean Energy Works Portland began as a pilot program in the summer of 2009. With strong collaboration among the City, utilities, the Energy Trust of Oregon, contractors, Green for All, and Enterprise Cascadia,  the pilot was designed to test new ways to market and deliver loans for energy efficiency upgrades to consumers in 500 Portland homes, while ensuring that the energy improvements result in good quality jobs. The pilot is testing whether people would install comprehensive energy efficiency upgrades (like insulation, air sealing and high-efficiency heating systems) in their homes within a short timeframe if they were offered a comprehensive package of services and benefits, including:

  • Low-cost, long-term financing to cover the upfront costs (20-year loans at 3.99% or 5.99%);
  • The services of third-party personal resource during the process, called an Energy Advocate; and
  • The convenience of repaying the monthly loan obligation on the heating utility bill.

The pilot initially was funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). ARRA grants come with a mandate to use the funds to create jobs. In 2009, the recession had had a chilling effect on Portland’s construction sector. Unemployment in the building trades skyrocketed to more than 20 percent in the Portland metro area.

Recognizing that a major barrier to retrofitting existing buildings is the up-front cost of the improvements, Mayor Adams led the way to help launch Clean Energy Works Portland to accomplish the dual goals of creating jobs in the construction sector and saving energy for Portland households.  The Mayor was particularly committed to expanding access for all residents and making sure that the economic opportunities would flow toward those typically hardest hit by economic recession: low-income people, women and people of color.

The Mayor’s office and BPS engaged in a focused discussion with a wide array of local stakeholders — community-based organizations, labor unions, faith-based organizations, training and apprenticeship providers, contractors and others — that led to the development of a set of workforce standards and benefits that ensure equity in the program’s contracting, hiring and training. The Community Workforce Agreement , endorsed by City Council on September 30, 2009, codified these standards and benefits and included performance metrics for tracking progress toward these goals.

Less than a year and a half later, the pilot is nearing completion. Initial results, based on the first 250 loans, are encouraging:

  • Compared to typical residential energy efficiency programs, Clean Energy Works has shown quicker consumer adoption rates and greater energy savings per home.
  • 93 percent of participants would recommend the program to family or friends.
  • Thirty or more jobs have been created, paying average wages of nearly $27 per hour.
  • 50 percent of the trade hours have been worked by women and people of color.
  • 20 percent of the dollars have gone to historically underrepresented or disadvantaged businesses.

Data and feedback from the pilot suggest that in order for the program to reach a larger scale, consumers must have increased choice, flexibility and transparency. The overall customer experience —applying for the program, having a home performance assessment, obtaining a loan and having the energy improvements installed — must take less time and be simpler for people.

Most importantly, the program and its many partners must continue to build consumer demand for energy retrofits. Without a significant increase in demand, the workforce opportunities will be slow to develop and opportunities to leverage critically-important private capital may be missed. Improving the performance of our homes needs to become as commonplace as tuning up our vehicles.

These lessons and many others will be applied as Clean Energy Works expands to the metro area and to rural communities elsewhere in Oregon.  The 500-home pilot marks a key step in the decades-long  journey toward retrofitting Oregon’s existing building stock and creating an equitable and self-sustaining market for energy retrofits.

We want to hear from CEWP participants

BPS encourages you to share your experience with the Clean Energy Works Portland pilot program it by sending an e-mail to Stories are a powerful tool for social change. We want to help you tell yours.