Idaho Power Builds Strong Partnership for Success in Weatherization

April 28, 2013
May/June 2013
A version of this article appears in the May/June 2013 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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With headquarters in Boise, Idaho, and an employee base of approximately 2,000 people, Idaho Power is an electric utility engaged in the generation, transmission, distribution, sale, and purchase of electric energy. We run a weatherization program that we feel is far from ordinary. What makes us unique is the way we’ve been able to pioneer a strong partnership with our regional Community Action Partnership (CAP) agencies and their weatherization teams. This makes our program more flexible and allows us to benefit from the expertise of their trained, certified and experienced crews.


Jessie Lumbreras (left), Certified Energy Auditor and Weatherization Technician of Energy Zone; author Cheryl Paoli (center); and Ronald Corta (right), director of Energy Zone, one of Idaho Power’s partners in its weatherization programs. (Idaho Power)


Happy Idaho Power customers Mike and Judy Madron visit with Cheryl Paoli following the weatherization of their home in Caldwell, Idaho. (Idaho Power)

Idaho Power offers two weatherization programs. Both of these programs have proven successful in teaching our customers ways to use energy wisely. Idaho Power serves more than 500,000 customers across southern Idaho and southeastern Oregon. Because some of our smaller rural communities have limited access to natural gas, many of our customers rely solely on electricity to heat their homes.

When energy bills become unmanageable, residents can reach out to their local CAP agency for help. If they meet specific criteria (income level; number of people in the home, including disabled, elderly, or children; and so on), they may qualify for a one-time per season payment toward their energy bill. This holds true whether they are using natural gas, electricity, propane, or even wood. After a household qualifies for this one-time per season national Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) payment, their home is considered for one-time weatherization assistance. That’s how customers move from seeking help in paying their energy bills each year to long-term energy savings through weatherization assistance programs, and therefore relying less on energy assistance. We find that customers who qualify for energy assistance may typically use more energy than the average customer because their homes may be less energy efficient as they could be. These customers may not be participating in other energy efficiency programs offered to electrically-heated homes in Idaho Power’s service area, because some programs require participants to pay a contractor up front and then wait for a rebate check to recoup some of their costs.

Weatherization Assistance for Qualified Customers (WAQC)

Through our WAQC program, we partner with each Idaho or Oregon CAP agency to weatherize homes of qualified Idaho Power customers. We fund this program and allow CAP agency weatherization managers to leverage our money with federal LIHEAP funds to expand weatherization services for our customers.

What’s unique about the WAQC program—and what has made it so successful—is that Idaho Power pays up to 100% of any weatherization measure in a customer’s home and up to 85% of a total home weatherization project. Weatherization managers can decide how best to leverage dollars on each job, down to the individual measure. This allows them to use proportionately more or less Idaho Power funds at any given time to help manage their budgets. A weatherization manager can use leveraged funds to manage the agency’s budget and the staffing of weatherization crews. Many times, the manager is juggling several grants with different completion deadlines. Idaho Power wants to provide enough program flexibility to help weatherization managers manage their budgets, keep their trained professionals busy and provide assistance to as many customers as possible.

Idaho Power also provides a pooled fund used to weatherize buildings that house nonprofit organizations serving our special needs customers, like community and senior centers. It is not required that their facilities be heated electrically, but they must be able to save energy by meeting a minimum savings-investment ratio (SIR) on each weatherization job.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009

Funding from ARRA helped to ramp up DOE’s weatherization efforts. Hundreds of thousands of weatherization personnel were trained and customers were served with federally-funded weatherization assistance throughout the nation.

CAP agencies in Idaho had full weatherization crews trained and certified through ARRA. That meant we were confident that all weatherization crews had extensive training, and they were following an in-depth set of rules to meet ARRA, DOE, Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), Energy Star, ASHRAE and other industry standards.

The Idaho WAP program was so well managed in Idaho by the Community Action Partnership Association of Idaho (CAPAI), and Idaho CAP agency personnel, that Idaho was recognized nationally as one of the first states to successfully complete its ARRA contract. With ARRA funding, we anticipated having a wealth of certified auditors and trained crews to weatherize homes in our service area when the funding was spent and the need for weatherization continued.

Weatherization Solutions for Eligible Customers Post-ARRA

Many of the accomplishments of the WAQC program through DOE and the ARRA legislation were well documented. But had we gone far enough? There were still customers whose income was just slightly too high to qualify for WAQC. Yet this nearly-eligible population also needed to save energy through weatherization and learn to use energy wisely. Many of them lived in the same type of housing as our WAQC customers and may not have been participating in our other residential energy efficiency programs.

Our solution was to pilot another whole-house weatherization program—one that more customers would qualify for. We call it Weatherization Solutions for Eligible Customers. The Weatherization Solutions program serves Idaho Power customers who heat with electricity and have a household income ranging from 175% to 250% of the current federal poverty level. Idaho Power pays 100% of each whole-house weatherization job as long as the project provides cost-effective energy savings. We contract with fee-for-service limited-liability corporations developed by CAP agency personnel for the weatherization work. Program guidelines mirror DOE and Idaho state weatherization guidelines for available measures and cost-effectiveness. This serves two purposes. First, the state of Idaho keeps more ARRA-trained personnel working and helps Idaho Power meet its energy efficiency goals. And second, we can offer near-qualifying customers a specific energy efficiency program.

In 2009, we began a pilot for the new Weatherization Solutions program in our southern Idaho service area. We began with Home Energy Management, LLC, weatherizing 18 electrically heated homes of eligible customers. On each project, Idaho Power paid 100% of the job costs. Each job had to achieve a minimum SIR in order to qualify for the program. In 2010, we expanded the program to include our western Idaho service area. In 2011, we moved into our eastern Idaho and Treasure Valley service area, including Boise. We now have both Weatherization Solutions and WAQC, providing energy efficiency services for two customer groups that may not be currently participating in our other residential energy efficiency programs.

Flexibility

What is unique about both programs is that we allow weatherization managers more flexibility to leverage dollars in whatever way best fits each project, and works best with other agency grants. Most grants used by CAP agencies have specific time lines for completion. By providing flexible funding, we serve as a better partner on weatherization projects serving our residential customers.

In the WAQC program, weatherization managers can charge up to 100% of any specific measures they perform in a house—replacing windows, doors, ductwork, and so on—and can bill us up to 85% of the total job cost, as long as the minimum SIR is reached through Idaho’s state energy audit program.

We allow managers the flexibility of an annual average cost per home. For example, one project may need $5,000 in services while another may need only $2,000. The average cost per home includes all homes weatherized within the year. That helps cover the cost of work on some measures that would not be available to homeowners if the average was applied on an individual-home basis.

Consistent with federal weatherization guidelines, our weatherization programs focus on the entire house and on the interactions between measures. When we weatherize a home, we weatherize it completely, so we don’t need to go back. We take a whole-house approach to save energy and provide a more comfortable and healthy living environment for our customers. Idaho Power weatherization programs allow up to 15% of the job cost for health and safety measures, such as additional ventilation to protect indoor air quality.

The two programs operate similarly, although they are funded differently. This works well for our agencies and fee-for-service contractors for several reasons. Typically, some CAP agency personnel work with both programs. For example, if WAQC has spent all its federal funding for the year, those trained employees may be able to work for the Weatherization Solutions program. When they work on WAQC projects, agency personnel represent the CAP agencies. When they work on Weatherization Solutions projects, they represent Idaho Power contractors.

Through our weatherization programs, we teach customers how to use energy wisely. We provide booklets and handouts for auditors, crews and contractors to give to our customers; the auditor explains how customers can use energy wisely. This one-on-one education which provides question-and-answer opportunities has proven very effective in helping customers understand the things they can do to reduce their energy use. We’ve found that this direct one-on-one education with question-and-answer opportunities, with a knowledgeable and trustworthy professional, is one of the best methods of helping our customers learn more about saving energy. The professional can then describe our other residential energy efficiency programs and customers can choose whether to participate in them.

The Benefits of Partnership

We’ve built weatherization programs that benefit our CAP agencies and most importantly, our customers (see “The Numbers So Far”). We acknowledge the professionalism of our partners by giving their weatherization managers as much flexibility as possible. Why? Because it helps the managers to operate their programs and Idaho Power funding more effectively. We are proud of how we’ve created a great partnership for the future as our teams adapt and programs improve to meet the needs of our customers. Our CAP agencies know weatherization better than anyone else and they know how to manage their budgets and their programs. We share common goals, and working together we can serve many customers who might benefit from saving energy.

learn more

For more information about the utility weatherization program, go to the Idaho Power website, and click on the link for Energy Efficiency.

Keys to Success

Perhaps the greatest key to our success is our outstanding working relationship with our CAP agency personnel. Together with CAP weatherization managers and executive directors, we’ve developed our programs to provide the greatest possible benefits for our low- and moderate-income families. Partnering with our CAP agencies has given our weatherization professionals the time to explain energy efficiency to our customers. This is another key to our success. Customers save energy and learn how to use energy wisely while staying comfortable in their homes.

Our programs adhere to DOE and state guidelines while giving agency managers maximum flexibility in administering funds. Through thoughtful design, Idaho Power’s weatherization programs benefit everybody!

Cheryl Paoli is an Idaho Power program specialist in the areas of customer relations and energy efficiency.

This article was sponsored by DOE's Weatherization Assistance Program through the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

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