Progress making progress with low-income energy efficiency program

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This blog was written by SACE intern Jeannie McKinney and Natalie Mims.

Finding best practices in utility-led energy efficiency programs usually means looking beyond our region. Sadly, most of the leading programs are developed and demonstrated by peer utilities in other regions of the U.S. It has been particularly distressing to see that the great need for effective and low-cost energy efficiency programs for low income households has not been met across the Southeast.

All of that may change though, with growing recognition of Progress Energy’s Neighborhood Energy Saver (NES) program. Over the past five years, this low-income energy efficiency program has demonstrated great promise in both Florida and the Carolinas. With a high participation rates and reasonable costs, the Progress NES program is a model that could significantly change the way utilities throughout the U.S. approach low-income energy efficiency programs.

The Neighborhood Energy Saver Programscreen-shot-2011-10-24-at-32016-pm

In 2006, Progress Energy pilot tested this program in Florida to improve how their low-income customers received help with saving energy.  The initiative quickly took off, and in less than two years, Progress had installed over 50,000 energy efficiency improvements for 3,000 Florida customers. Called Neighborhood Energy Saver (NES), this program approaches energy efficiency on two fronts: by installing efficiency measures, and by educating consumers about energy consumption and potential energy saving techniques.

We’ve provided a step-by-step outline of the NES procedure at the end of this post to give you a more comprehensive picture of the program overall. However, the most important concept to highlight is the Progress Energy’s implementation method: from start until finish, program representatives take an aggressive and active approach to communicating with and contacting qualified customers. By going door-to-door within a neighborhood, the program makes a distinct effort to help every eligible household with energy efficiency improvements that they possibly can.

After its successful start in Florida, Progress took the program to their Carolina customers, where it is achieving encouraging results as well. Possibly due to its unique implementation and communication scheme, the Carolinas NES program has achieved 85% participation rates in the neighborhoods where it’s been offered. Since April 2010, Progress Energy Carolinas has served  over 9,000 participants in their Neighborhood Energy Saver program.

Furthermore, Progress is finding that the NES program has costs that are within the norm of programs offered to all customers. The program has the potential to be costly due to the aggressive outreach, but with a high participation rate, those costs are spread over many successful installations of energy efficiency measures. Even though it is not the least expensive of PEC’s residential energy efficiency programs, its cost is quite reasonable compared to residential programs nationwide.

Residential Energy Efficiency Costs, Progress Energy 2010
Program Cost (Levelized $/MWh)
Lighting (CFLs, etc.)
$ 12
Home Advantage $ 31
Neighborhood Energy Saver (Low Income) $ 47
Home Energy Improvement $ 92

Source: Progress Energy Carolinas 2011 South Carolina DSM filing, Provision (h)(1)(ii)f

Compare with Other Low-Income Programs in the Southeast
Progress Energy is not the only utility offering a low-income program to its customers; however, it is offering one that is distinctly unique. Progress’ implementation approach sets it apart from most other utilities in the Southeast, which are taking the more conventional, customer-initiated approach with their low income programs.

For instance, it’s common for Southeastern utilities to address low-income by partnering with state governments and private organizations that already administer weatherization programs to low-income residences. Some utilities using this approach include Georgia Power Company (section 5-8), TVA (p.34), Florida Power & Light Company ( p. 29) and Progress Energy ( p. 31).

In addition to these typical weatherization programs, there are a few Southeastern utilities who have initiated more specialized types of low-income programs as well. Examples include Gulf Power’s  Solar Thermal Water Heating installations ( p. 37) and the Orlando Utility Commission’s Home Energy Fix-Up Program (p. 56).

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Efficiency measures most commonly offered through the NES Program.

Essentially, with its Neighborhood Energy Saver’s Program, Progress has added depth and targeted customer engagement to the community implementation model that other programs have used. Certainly, other groups across the nation have already taken notice, including American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE). In 2008, ACEEE published a study that highlighted effective low-income programs; and though still a young program at the time, NES received an honorable mention.

Two Southeastern utilities have committed to adopting Progress Energy’s program model: Gulf Power and Duke Energy. Gulf started their own initiative modeled after NES this summer, called the Community Energy Saver Program, and Duke Energy has indicated that it will seek regulatory approval for a similar low-income initiative in the near future.

The model is being enhanced by other utilities across the country that have also started their own award-winning initiatives. In 2010, DTE Energy hired Solutions for Energy Efficient Logistics (SEEL) to help implement its Neighborhood Energy Savers Outreach (NESO) Program. By March 15th of this year, the NESO Program helped 15,963 customers save almost 15,000 MWh. Extensive community outreach and energy education efforts are proving effective not only for one utility’s customer base, but for other areas in the nation as well.

In August, Progress Energy Carolinas kicked off another NES initiative in Asheville, North Carolina. Discussions with Progress Energy staff suggest that the utility is dedicated to providing comprehensive low-income efficiency measures to many of their qualified constituents. Utilities needing to upgrade their own low-income energy efficiency strategies need look no further for inspiration than the Neighborhood Energy Saver’s Program.

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NES Program Procedurenes-picture
The NES program can be characterized by four steps in the implementation process:

Step 1: Program Planning
Program planning lays the groundwork for the NES program’s successes. During the planning stage, program participation boundaries are drawn, and all homes within those boundaries are eligible for the program. Progress Energy begins to build awareness and understanding of the program by speaking to community leaders to generate excitement and awareness of the program from a grassroots level several months before the crews show up and begin speaking to residents.

Step 2: Kick-off
A few weeks before the energy efficiency installments begin, Progress Energy and the community leaders coordinate a kick-off event to share the details and process of NES. Prior to the event, Progress sends all qualified residents in the neighborhood a postcard, letting them know the time, date, and reason for the information session. This community engagement is often the biggest enthusiasm-generator for the program.

screen-shot-2011-10-17-at-23748-pmStep 3: Scheduling and Notification of Program
Prior to arriving in a section of the neighborhood, Progress will hang door hangers on all customers’ doors, letting them know that the utility will be in their neighborhood in the morning or afternoon on a designated day. If those times are inconvenient for the customer, there is a telephone number on the notice so the customer can schedule an appointment, including on Saturdays. If necessary, more information sessions are held, information cards are mailed, and reminder phone calls are made to residents. The utility also puts signs up throughout the neighborhood a few days prior to arrival, to raise awareness and remind customers of the program.

Step 4: Door-to-Door Installation
Progress Energy systematically goes to each house in the neighborhood, and offers to install energy efficiency measures and provide energy saving tips. When installations begin, teams go door-to-door within a neighborhood, canvassing a designated area and attempting to personally interact with a member from every household. Once in the house, the utility representatives engage the customers and answer any questions they have about energy efficiency. If residents aren’t home, another attempt is made in the following days. Though a lot of work, all of this preparation and innovative implementation appear to be working to Progress Energy’s advantage, as shown by its high participation rate of 85%.

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