Since 2009 the local community organization Socially Equal Energy Efficient Development (SEEED) has conducted the ListeningProject – by now approximately 100 surveys of low and moderate income homeowners – to get a picture of energy burdens and gauge support for weatherization loan programs with bill neutrality. In addition to predicting the spike in emergency utility bill assistance that eventually led to the formation of the Smarter Cities Stakeholder Council, the Listening Project documented very strong local interest in taking advantage of a weatherization loan program with bill neutrality.
The Listening Project confirmed the experience of other communities in identifying and overcoming 2 main barriers to widespread adoption of EE in low-income areas:
Overcoming the Barriers
FINANCIAL – Any upfront costs and additional monthly budget obligations are non-starters for this group.
These folks live mostly paycheck-to-paycheck. Given this reality, 2 features are essential in a loan product for this market:
1. No down payments.
2. Bill neutrality (or monthly $ savings).
INFORMATION – For this population there is a general lack of trusted information on what retrofits are, why they're beneficial, and how to get them.
Effective Community-based/Grassroots Outreach and Marketing:
- Using trusted information channels, e.g. PTAs, churches, neighborhood associations, etc...
- Building upon existing relationships and networks in low/moderate income communities.
- Face-to-face interactions (canvassing, community meetings, etc....)
- Creating a “buzz” in the neighborhood by spreading the word that neighbors are retrofitting their homes.
The cost-benefit of a robust marketing partnership with community organizations should be considered in the context of leveraging existing resources for a pilot program and beyond. Professional consultancy with a marketing firm will also be required in the startup phase to set up an overall marketing programin Knoxville.
In Knoxville, the “cost” and “conscience” attributes have also also been major motivating factors for the middle income homeowners participating in the GreenChurch – Green Jobs Initiative. GCGJ is a pilot program to weatherize the homes of church members by contractors who agree to pay a living wage to at-risk youth while training them in the weatherization trade.
As the frequency of extreme weather events and energy rates increase, so will the demand for EE projects for higher-income residents. In addition to serving the low-income segment described above, to maximize EE gains and to scale up job creation, Knoxville's program would do well to exploit this emerging market.