Energy Outreach Colorado is adding an innovative new strategy to its programs for lowering energy costs for low-income consumers, based on energy education and behavior change.
With funding from Xcel Energy, EOC partnered with Colorado affordable housing communities, nonprofit organizations and low-income families over the past year to fine-tune a successful method that trains participants how to understand and manage their energy use in order to lower costs, address health and safety concerns and allow more dollars to be spent for other needs.
As a result, the 23 nonprofits, six affordable housing communities and more than 5,000 families that participated saved a total of 331,203 in kilowatt hours of electricity and 2,169 in dekatherms of natural gas. That amounts to a projected $81,223 that can be reallocated for other necessities.
“Many of the nonprofits we work with offer our energy bill payment assistance to their low-income clients,” said Nicole O’Connor, manager of the Energy Behavior Change Program. “After we install energy efficiency improvements in the nonprofit buildings, they can allocate more funding to client services, so low-income families benefit both ways.”
EOC has a statewide network of 100 community organizations that distribute its energy bill payment assistance, and six of these were trained to educate energy assistance recipients about simple ways to reduce home energy consumption and costs. Forty-five interested families received free in-home energy coaching on actions such as turning off power strips and changing out incandescent lightbulbs and faucet aerators.
“These in-home visits often uncovered other issues like non-working appliances and lack of insulation,” O’Connor said. “We were able to refer these families to other programs such furnace repair, weatherization and energy assistance.”
EOC also provides grants to install energy efficiency improvements in affordable housing communities and nonprofits. Adding an education and behavior change component engaged the staff and tenants in conservation efforts that increased energy cost reductions and savings, as well as extended the longevity of installed efficiency equipment.
EOC and Xcel Energy plan to expand the education and behavior change program in 2017 and will collaborate with more assistance agencies and organizations such as Colorado’s Affordable Residential Energy (CARE) to increase the number of households helped.