State energy efficiency program a success

OER seeking island participants for next phase
Fri, 04/08/2016 - 11:45am
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Office of Energy Resources Chief of Staff Nick Ucci listens to a question during an information with the Town Council on Monday, April 4. Photos by Lars Trodson

The Office of Energy Resources (OER), whose mission is sustainability and reducing energy costs, believes that results from the "Block Island Saves" Energy Efficiency Initiative (EEI) pre-pilot program that was initiated on Block Island might be a precursor for greater energy savings here and elsewhere.

According to OER Chief of Staff Nick Ucci, as a result of the pre-pilot program’s success, the OER is now holding open enrollment and seeking a greater pool of island applicants for the next phase.

The first phase of the program involved 15 participants, including 10 island residences and five businesses.

“The pre-pilot program was a success,” said Ucci at the Monday, April 4 meeting with the New Shoreham Town Council. “We’re ready to move forward. So, we decided to keep all of the offerings the same” in the next phase of the pilot program. The OER’s pilot program is now available for enrollment for year-round Block Island businesses and residents only.

The OER program offerings are: free home energy assessments with direct installation of energy efficiency measures, including lighting, cost coverage for air sealing and insulation, WiFi capable thermostats, personalized efficiency recommendations for deeper energy saving measures, equipment rebates, heating and air-conditioning equipment, and appliance recommendations.

Block Island resident Millie McGinnes told The Times that she “thought the program was great. I would encourage everyone who gets a chance to participate.”

“My favorite part of the program was the fact that during the audit they changed out every one of my light bulbs throughout the entire house (outside lights too) to LEDs. That alone was an energy saver,” added McGinnes, who noted that she “received extra insulation in areas throughout the house, with subsidies that paid for about half the project. I just accepted the parts of the proposal, all of it really, I wanted to have completed, and the work was done at the price quoted.”

Resident Terri Chmiel told The Times that, “The positive from the program came from the technicians that switched out lightbulbs that were not LEDs (for free). My electric bill has significantly been reduced.” Although Chmiel noted that her focus in doing the energy audit “was to help with my windows. I pointed this fact out to the technicians while they were performing the audit in my house. I was disappointed when I received the written summary stating the windows were fine. During the winter I put up plastic to cover the windows, so truly their statement and observation was incorrect.”

Dr. Peter Baute, who had his home’s lights replaced with LEDs, said, “It was a super experience. I’m sure the savings will be substantial. I would encourage anyone who gets the opportunity to participate in the program.”

At the meeting, Ucci noted that Block Island “is an important community. It’s an excellent test ground for us. It’s a great community to test some innovative things in.”

Ucci, along with Project Manager Becca Trietch and State Sen. Susan Sosnowski, made a return visit to the island to meet with the Council, presented the OER’s findings and discussed the next phase of the EEI program. The officials had unveiled the pre-pilot program to town officials at a July 20, 2015 meeting at Town Hall.

“What we learned with the pre-pilot program is better than we thought,” noted Ucci. “It was cost-effective from our point of view. It makes sense to take this investment and make it on the island.”

According to its results, noted in the OER report at the April 4 meeting, out of 24 island applicants the pre-pilot program involved participation of 10 residential and 5 small business properties. All applicants received a free energy assessment with recommendations on how to improve energy efficiency. Applicants not selected for the pre-pilot program remain eligible for the 2016 pilot program.

Final results of the pre-pilot program were promising for the OER, with total projected annual electric savings of 91,852 kilowatt-hours. Of the five small island businesses participating, 63,385 kilowatt-hours of energy were saved due to installation of recommended measures. And, out of eight residences that participated, 28,467 kilowatt-hours of energy were saved due to installation of energy saving measures. 

The report noted that “eight out of 10 residential participants had weatherization opportunities, but only four installed the recommended measures. Only one out of five small businesses received weatherization recommendations. The five small businesses had lighting upgrade opportunities and all of the properties completed the recommended lighting upgrades.”

“What’s included in your weatherization?” asked Councilor Terry Mooney of Ucci. “Do you also include storm windows and doors?”

“No, we don’t provide rebates for windows and doors,” said Ucci. “The paybacks on those investments are so long, and the savings are so small that it’s not cost effective for us to subsidize it. We’d rather put those dollars into other things that provide benefits, like weatherization, insulation…”

First Warden Ken Lacoste asked Ucci if there was anything the town could do to help the OER reach its goals during the next step in the process.

“Just let folks know about it,” said Ucci. “We want as many participants as we can get.”

Ucci wanted town officials to convey the “misconception” that once the cable is installed, connected to the wind farm and operational, “and energy rates fall to some degree, that energy efficiency isn’t needed. But obviously it is,” he said.

He also noted that the Block Island School, the Island Free Library and the New Shoreham Town Hall all participated in the OER’s EEI program and received a suite of upgrades. The OER’s report noted that there was a “projected 54 percent energy reduction for all combined measures” for those town buildings.

Block Island Power Company (BIPCo) co-president Al Casazza told The Block Island Times that the utility participated in the program and replaced 74 HPS (high-pressure sodium) streetlights with energy-efficient LEDs at a cost savings of $8,650 per annum. The report denoted that the LED lights have reduced streetlight energy consumption by 56 percent. BIPCo’s streetlight replacement initiative was funded by $45,000 in state RGGI (Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative) auction proceeds.

“Funding for the "Block Island Saves" pilot efficiency program is being provided by OER, who allocated $500,000 in state RGGI auction proceeds for this purpose in August 2015. Trietch informed The Times that $100,000 of these funds were used for the pre-pilot program. The remaining balance of the RGGI funds will be utilized for the pilot program.”

Trietch said that the goals for implementing the EEI program are to “help local residents/businesses save now, support job growth and investment in Rhode Island’s clean energy economy, build relationships and awareness with local energy consumers, gather practical and technical experience/data, and inform future initiatives and longer-term solutions for Block Island’s energy efficiency.”

After the meeting, Sosnowski told The Times that she thought it was a step in the right direction for the island’s energy conservation. “The old term is conservation,” she said. “Energy efficiency is the new term, but it’s all about conservation of electricity. Any time you save a kilowatt it’s not only saving money, but it’s less energy being consumed. Conservation never goes out of style.”

The 10 Block Island residents who participated in the pre-pilot program are: Philippa Jack, Joanne Warfel, Arlene Tunney, Peter B. Baute, Dora Burak, Millie McGinnes, Terri Chmiel, Judith Gray, Deborah Howarth, and James and Roberta McCormick. The five Island businesses that particpated in the pre-pilot program are: the Block Island Health Services, 1661 Inn, North Light Fibers, Island Manor Resort, and the Redbird Liquor Store.    

Ucci noted that the OER's 2016 EEI pilot program is now open to applicants on a first-come, first serve basis for all businesses and year-round residents through the end of 2016. The program’s offerings will be made available throughout the year or until funds for the program are depleted. 

For more information on the EEI program, including the OER’s report to the Town Council, go to: www.energy.ri.gov/efficiency/BI/.