Author Archives: Natalie Hildt Treat

Intrigue, deal-making, and a happy ending: Delaware passes landmark efficiency bill

What a cliff hanger! In the fight to expand energy efficiency in Delaware, we had an uphill battle, a gritty gang of advocates, steadfast civil servants, a reluctant lawmaker. And somewhere in there, some extraordinary legislative maneuvering. Maybe not ready for Hollywood, but for those of us who have been toiling away to bring ratepayer-funded efficiency programs to Delaware, this victory is sweet.

Seal_of_Delaware In the wee hours of the morning of July 1 as the 2014 session drew to a close, Delaware’s General Assembly surprised and delighted efficiency supporters, passing a bill to enable ratepayer-funded programs and allow utilities to deliver those programs to their customers. Continue reading

Building a Modular Net Zero Home: An Update from the Trenches

When I last wrote about our project building a super-efficient, solar-powered home, my husband Tom and I were exhilarated. After months of agony waiting for approval of our septic system and building plans, we finally closed on the acre of land in Salisbury, Mass. Meanwhile, factory construction of the modules at Keiser Homes was already complete.

We had closed on the land and construction loan on April 16. A week later, we were standing in the light rain around a gaping, muddy hole in the ground. As a small crew worked behind us, Tom and I posed for pictures with our architect, builder, town selectman and representatives from Boston magazine, Boston Children’s Hospital and National Grid. It was the groundbreaking ceremony for the magazine’s Design Home 2014, and we beamed like sunshine, despite the weather.

groundbreaking

Pictured, L – R:  Beth Lonergan, Ishaga Diagnana, and Dave Gendall of National Grid; Kristen Standish, Publisher of Boston magazine; Michael Bornhorst, Director, Corporate Initiatives at Boston Children’s Hospital; Tom and Natalie Treat, homeowners; Matt Silva, former Sales & Marketing Manager at Ridgeview Construction; Parlin Meyer, Development Director at BrightBuilt Home; and Freeman Condon, Salisbury Town Selectman.

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Only Natural? A Rush to Gas before Right-Sizing, Efficiency Would Cost Region

You can practically hear the hand-wringing. New England is increasingly dependent on natural gas for electricity generation, and in a long cold winter such as we’ve just experienced, heating need puts a squeeze on this energy feedstock, causing wholesale prices to skyrocket.

Figure 1: Electric Pricing Rising with Natural Gas Prices. Source: ISO-New England

Figure 1: Electric Pricing Rising with Natural Gas Prices. Source: ISO-New England

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Our Net Zero Odyssey: Building a Modular, High-Efficiency Home

Our net zero energy home will soon be complete!

At long last, our net zero energy home is moving from conception to reality.

Deciding to go for net zero energy was the easy part of building a home. My work at Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships (NEEP) and my husband Tom’s strong interest in sustainable building made it a natural choice. We knew the additional upfront costs of building with more insulation, better windows and high efficiency equipment was a smart investment that we’d recover in lower monthly energy bills, increased comfort, and someday higher resale value.

But making it through all the “usual” hurdles: securing financing, buying land, working with the architect and builder, getting permits and navigating local politics has been more intense than Tom and I could have imagined. That, and the added twist that our house is being featured as the Boston Magazine Design Home of 2014.

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Reflections on Smart Grid and the Role of Energy Efficiency

I recently returned from the first-ever National Summit on Integrating Energy Efficiency and Smart Grid, where I experienced a series of Aha! moments. I’m still chewing on what I learned about how energy efficiency (EE), clean distributed generation (DG) and demand response (DR) can work together, and how this “smart grid” stuff is going to help enable it.

FERC Commissioner Jon Wellinghoff explained how Hurrican Sandy changed people's views on energy.

FERC Commissioner Jon Wellinghoff explained how Hurrican Sandy changed people’s views on energy. (photo credit: ADS)

At NEEP, we view energy efficiency as the smartest, most cost-effective way to help us solve a number of society’s challenges: wringing out waste, putting money back in people’s pockets and building the regional economy, controlling cost, increasing reliability, reducing the need for transmission and generation upgrades, and of course the biggest — mitigating climate change. To borrow RAP’s informal motto: “Energy efficiency is the answer. What’s the question?” Continue reading

The Monster in My Basement: Tough Lessons in Building Science

Sweetum

Sweetums seems much less scary now that I’ve met the monster called mold.

When I was a little girl, I was convinced that a monster lived in my basement. I was afraid to go downstairs alone in the morning — this terrifyingly vivid image of the dining room floor opening up, and the Muppets ogre Sweetums climbing out.

Decades later as a first-time homeowner, I’ve learned that monsters are real. But instead of a big hairy guy, it’s zillions of microbes of mold that keep me up at night.

Fresh Faces at NEEP!

NEEP is pleased to welcome a trio of new faces to our Public Policy and EM&V Teams! While Kevin Rose is an accomplished recent graduate, Serafina Zeringo and Xiao are joining us as interns as they pursue studies in environmental policy.

Kevin Rose

Kevin Rose

Kevin Rose is the Building Energy Technical Associate, where he provides technical guidance to NEEP’s Building Codes team and helps to promote energy efficiency in buildings throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. Prior to joining NEEP this summer, Kevin worked as an Energy Auditor for Integral Building & Deign, where he assisted in the modeling, testing, and rating of high performance residential buildings in New York State.  He holds professional certifications with BPI and HERS, and in 2011 he was published in the Journal of Environmental Assessment Policy and Management for his research on applying game theory techniques to environmental policy-making. Kevin holds a B.A. in Engineering Studies and a B.S. in Mathematics from Lafayette College.

Serafina

Serafina Zeringo

Serafina Zeringo is interning with the Public Policy Outreach and Analysis team, and plans to stay with us through the fall as she works towards an M.S. in Environmental Policy from Bard College Center for Environmental Policy. Serafina helps the team with a variety of projects, including general research and policy tracking, drafting summaries of legislation and regulatory documents, writing blog posts, and keeping our website current. Before coming to NEEP, she worked for the C2C Fellows Program, a national network for undergraduates and recent graduates aspiring to sustainability leadership in politics and business where she helped train 18-26 year olds on leadership, public speaking, and writing for careers in business and politics, with a focus on the environmental field. Serafina holds a B.S. in Environmental Geoscience with minors in Sociology and History and a concentration in Prelaw from Boston College.

Xiao Chen

Xiao Chen

Xiao Chen is interning with the Evaluation, Measurement and Verification Forum at NEEP, where he provides general support to the team; conducts research and analyses on the Forum’s Repository of States & Topical EM&V studies and Regional Energy Efficiency Database (REED); and provides project management assistance. Before coming to NEEP, Xiao was a graduate student at Clark University, where he worked as a graduate research assistant in the project, “Smart Grid: An Analysis of How Socio-Political Contexts Shape Energy Technology Development and Policy” (NSF‐SES 1127697). Xiao’s background also includes a spring internship at the Institute for Energy and Sustainability. Xiao is dedicated to promoting energy efficiency and pursing sustainability in northeast region, as well as other parts of the world. Xiao holds a M.S. in Environmental Science and Policy from Clark University, and a B.S. in Environmental Science from Nanjing Agricultural University.

Delaware, Maine Strive to Advance Strong EE Policy and Funding Frameworks

The end of the legislative session brought cliff hangers for major energy efficiency bills in two states- one a stunning bipartisan rebuke of Maine’s Governor LePage with passage of an omnibus energy bill. The other ending in mild disappointment as the clock ran out for Delaware to pass a bill that would finally create a sustained funding source for its energy efficiency programs.

Maine: Omnibus Bill Will Provide Sustained Efficiency Funding

Efficiency Maine is preparing to greatly ramp up investments in efficiency, thanks to the June 26 passage of LD 1559,  “An Act to Reduce Energy Costs, Increase Energy Efficiency, Promote Electric System Reliability and Protect the Environment.”

The bill, passed by gubernatorial overrides of 121-11 in the House and 35-0 in the Senate, will have significant implications for Maine’s energy future, including expanding natural gas pipeline capacity, increasing funding for thermal efficiency, dramatically ramping up efficiency funding and authorizing the Public Utilities Commission to approve the budget of the Efficiency Maine Trust. This bipartisan bill is being hailed a landmark by business leaders and environmental advocates alike.

Michael Stoddard

Michael Stoddard, Executive Directive of the Efficiency Maine Trust.

Highlights had the chance to talk with Michael Stoddard, Executive Director of the Efficiency Maine Trust, on what the bill will mean for the future of energy efficiency for the state.

“I think people are pleased, but also quickly recognize that there is a lot of work to do,” said Stoddard when asked about the mood of his team after the bill’s passage. “People took about a day to enjoy the passage and then it was right back to the grindstone figuring out how and when to ramp up delivery,” he said, noting that Maine’s fiscal year 2014 stared on July 1.

Stoddard, who has been at the helm of the organization since its current inception under the Efficiency Maine Trust Act of 2009, has seen efficiency funding become a political football under a governor who clearly doubts the value of public efforts to help customers undertake efficiency projects.

We asked Stoddard, from an efficiency point of view, what does enactment of the omnibus energy bill (Chapter 369 in 2013 Public Acts) mean for Maine? He outlined three big things:

1)      The state’s electric conservation budgets are now on a path to funding levels consistent with the Maximum Achievable Cost-Effective (MACE) potential outlined in the 2014-2016 Triennial Plan. Stoddard noted that they will seek to ramp up over a three-year timeframe, and that a very important change is that the bill restores the Public Utilities Commission’s authority to adjust budget levels in line with the state’s energy savings goals. “The all cost-effective standard has been solidified, and the process amended so that it starts and finishes with the Public Utilities Commission,” he explained.

2)      The bill expands natural gas conservation program to all gas utilities. Currently, Unitil is the only provider large enough to be required to pay into the natural gas conservation fund. With 27,000 customers, their efficiency budget amounts to about $650,000 each year. The state’s other gas utilities are currently small, but the change is an important expansion of the programs.

3)      The bill directs the use of Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) proceeds to assisting oilheat customers, stating that at least 35% of proceeds shall be used for thermal efficiency programs, without specification of fuel type. With upwards of three-quarters of the state’s residential customers dependent on heating oil, this provision should provide significant relief.

“We are really pleased that the level of support for energy efficiency has grown to a point that is totally bipartisan and across all sectors of the economy,” said Stoddard.  “The change in the law is going to provide sustained support for these programs, and we are excited about the change that will enable us to extend the kinds of programs that we run for electric and natural gas to heating oil customers.” The state had run a very successful fuel-blind weatherization pilot with federal Recovery Act funding.  “Now policymakers are saying, ‘let’s create a sustained funding stream,’” Stoddard noted.

Part D of the bill also signals that Maine remains committed to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Notably, the adjustment to the state’s RGGI allowance cap is expected to increase revenue available for the state’s energy efficiency programs. With this change, Efficiency Maine is working to lay the groundwork for greatly expanded heating and weatherization programs.

“This will generate enough funds that we project we can reach 3,000-5,000 homes a year for the next three years,” said Stoddard, noting that the state has a long way to go in its stated goal of weatherizing all homes by 2030. “Thousands of homes a year are clearly not going to get us to the target by itself. I think we need to be patient, and realize we are doing market transformation,” said Stoddard.

As the first Efficiency Maine Triennial Plan concludes and the 2014-16 Plan gets underway, “Now there are one hundred small businesses that offer BPI audits and/or weatherization, and there are 5,000 Maine homes that have a relationship with one of these contractors,” Stoddard explained. “We hope that many of these homeowners who have done some efficiency work will become repeat customers, and continue moving forward with other measures.” said Stoddard, adding this will continue to build the market and help more Mainers see the value of efficiency as neighbors share their stories.

Delaware: On the Right Track

In Delaware, meanwhile, negotiators did not to reach accord until the last day of the legislative session, which did not leave time to pass House Bill 179, “An Act to Amend Title 26 of the Delaware Code Relating to Energy Efficiency Resource Standards and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards.”

Seal_of_Delaware

“We’re halfway through the session,” said Tom Noyes, Principal Planner for Utility Policy at Delaware’s Division of Energy and Climate. “Of course we are disappointed we didn’t get it through this summer, but the bill has not died.”

With the filing of two amendments, Noyes explained that he thinks that all the key players are on board to support the bill, which he expects could come up for a vote in early 2014. “The bill has broad political support from Republicans and Democrats, upstate and downstate,” said Noyes.  It passed the House 38-0 in June.

HB 179 builds on the recommendations of the Energy Efficiency Resource Standards (EERS) Workgroup, enabling and facilitating cooperative efforts to help the state meet its energy efficiency targets. The bill includes: rate recovery for utilities to invest in cost-effective efficiency as a resource, a three year planning and budget cycle for efficiency programs, and a stakeholder advisory board to help oversee the investment of ratepayer funds. It builds upon successful models in CT, MA and other states, and is expected to support hundreds of jobs annually.

Secretary of the Environment and Energy Collin O’Mara “has spent a great deal of time on this bill, making it a priority for the Department,” according to Noyes.  “The Secretary has been very engaged in trying to get this bill passed and looking at what we can do in the meanwhile,” Noyes added.

HB 179 will expand energy efficiency programs led by the utilities, notably because Delmarva Power will be allowed to recover for investments in efficiency through rates.  But the bill as amended makes clear there is a strong role for the Sustainable Energy Utility (SEU), which will continue to offer programs in coordination with Delmarva and the state’s municipal electric companies and rural electric cooperatives.

Noyes said that no time will be wasted in the months leading up to the bill’s reintroduction, building on phase two of an energy efficiency potential study and laying the groundwork for the types of programs that will be offered, and how they will be coordinated. “We want to be able to move expeditiously and see where we can get the biggest return on dollar invested,” said Noyes, adding that there is general agreement that the SEU would remain an integral part of energy efficiency programs in Delaware.

“Trying to move this bill has given us more opportunity to engage with all the stakeholders,” Noyes continued. “This gives us a chance to talk about what it means to really do energy efficiency in Delaware.” Noting that there could always be unforeseen roadblocks, Noyes sounded confident about the future of efficiency program funding for the state. “We’ve worked very hard to build broad consensus on this, and we expect that will pay off when the bill comes up for a vote.”

Hanging with the Grassroots, and Promoting Oilheat Efficiency in Massachusetts

We at NEEP spend most of our time in a pretty wonky universe. We work to advance energy efficiency policies and programs, but rarely do we get the chance to talk directly to “real people.” That is why it was so refreshing to attend the Local Environmental Action Conference over the weekend at Northeastern University in Boston.

Josh Craft of NEEP (center) spoke to a packed house about energy efficiency. He was joined on the Clean Energy panel by energy and climate expert Marc Breslow and Danielle Falzon of Environment Massachusetts.

Josh Craft of NEEP (center) spoke to a packed house about energy efficiency. He was joined on the Clean Energy panel by energy and climate expert Marc Breslow and Danielle Falzon of Environment Massachusetts.

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Thank you Tung Huynh, our Public Policy Intern!

Tung Huynh, NEEP's Public Policy Intern

Tung Huynh, NEEP’s Public Policy Intern

We have been fortunate to have another terrific intern on our team since last fall. Tung Huynh recently completed his masters degree in environmental policy from Clark University in Worcester, Mass. A native of Vietnam, Tung brings excellent analytical and writing skills, and is working on a number of projects relative to state efficiency investments and reported savings. Tung’s master’s thesis was entitled “Carrots for Utilities: Evaluating the Use of Regulatory Mechanisms to Remove Financial Barriers and Incentivize Utility Energy Efficiency Investment.” Thank you Tung for your contributions to NEEP! We are excited to see what your career path holds.