Black history is American history, and while we celebrate this every February, the contributions of the Black community shine year round. This is particularly clear in the energy efficiency industry, where innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders have paved the way for adoption and advancement for centuries. Lewis Lattimer revolutionized indoor lighting in the 1800s by refining the filament used in light bulbs, turning them from an expensive luxury to an everyday necessity. David Crosthwaite filed more than 43 patents for heating and air conditioning equipment in the 1920s and 30s, and was the first Black man to become a fellow in the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers. And even more recently, Lisa P. Jackson served as the first Black administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in 2009, prioritizing indoor air quality and climate change.
As a broad coalition of industry leaders, the VAEEC sees the amazing work our Black colleagues do on a regular basis. To highlight their insights and voices, we asked four members to share their experiences in the energy efficiency field.
Royce Brooks is a Member Service Specialist at Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC) where she has been employed for the past 25 years. She manages the PJM Demand Response Program for ODEC’s member-owner distribution cooperatives to ensure they are properly registered in the PJM program. She also works with Demand Response and Energy Efficiency (DR/EE) and Strategic Electrification (SE) teams ensuring the successful implementation and verification of programs, supports ODEC’s 11 member-owner distribution cooperatives Load Research program, and helps plan, coordinate and facilitate member education efforts. Royce is a member of the Generation & Transmission (G&T) Distributed Energy Resources (DER) Systems Working Group. She has a BS Degree in Business Administration from Virginia Union University.
McKenna Dunbar is a steadfast advocate for equitable clean energy transitions in frontline and rural communities, with a focus on the intricate intersections of environmental justice, green workforce development, and net-zero building policy initiatives. As the Building Electrification Staffer at Sierra Club Virginia Chapter, McKenna leads a team dedicated to advancing building electrification and reducing fossil fuel dependence. They are also a member of the VAEEC Board of Directors.
Maggie Kelley Riggins is the Senior Program Manage at Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance (SEEA) and has devoted her career to developing innovative and holistic approaches to understanding and solving gnarly problems faced in the South around climate and energy. Maggie currently manages the building portfolio as SEEA, where she is laying the landscape for equity through climate and workforce in energy efficiency. She manages SEEA’s energy efficient building code and standards work and the building-oriented pilot project models for local governments to increase energy efficiency as a solution for residential, commercial, and municipal buildings. Maggie is leading the nation’s work in drawing direct connections from building energy codes and standards to racial justice, opening new pathways to achieve affordable, healthy, and sustainable housing for everyone.
Anitra Watson is the Energy Conservation Program Manager at Dominion Energy. In her role she oversees the implementation of the Income and Age Qualifying Programs for Virginia and North Carolina, the residential Manufactured Housing Program, and the residential and commercial Multifamily Programs for Virginia. She monitors program progress, quality controls, and financial oversight. Anitra assists with testimony prep, discovery development and provides strategic recommendations. She works closely with Implementation Vendors, the Weatherization Service Providers, and Independent Contractors to ensure successful program implementation.
Why are you passionate about energy efficiency?
Royce: I am passionate about energy efficiency because it helps us save money. And who doesn’t like to save money, especially energy, the one thing we can’t live without! It’s a growing industry from lighting, appliances, renewable energy, beneficial electrification, and weatherization. Having efficient homes and buildings is the key to improving lifestyles.
Maggie: To me, energy efficiency is a way to support people in having a higher quality of life. Improving the energy efficiency of someone’s home or business directly relates to their economic opportunity, their health, and the resilience of their structures – all things that are very important in the Southeast. Getting to work in the energy efficiency and buildings sector affords me the opportunity to have a direct impact on the day to day lives of people and communities.
Anitra: Our health and our living conditions are intimately intertwined. If living conditions are not standard, it can weigh on the physical and mental stability of the individual. By providing energy efficiency we are improving living conditions, changing lives, and so much more. I am passionate because it provides a healthy environment for our customers and a sustainable approach in our industry.
McKenna: My passion for energy efficiency stems from its unique position at the intersection of innovation, equity, and environmental stewardship. This sector represents a fertile ground for technological advancement, where creative solutions can significantly reduce energy consumption, lower utility bills, and contribute to a more sustainable planet.
But beyond the technology, what really does excite me is the potential for energy efficiency to democratize access to clean, affordable energy. By focusing on how to make energy efficiency more accessible and affordable, we can ensure that the benefits of renewable energy and modernized infrastructure reach all communities, not just the affluent ones. This focus on equity ensures that our efforts in energy efficiency can help bridge the gap between different socioeconomic groups, making it a powerful tool for social change.
What brought you to the energy efficiency industry?
Maggie: I am fortunate to have gone to school in the time where energy policy was a degree pathway. I have been interested in sustainability, climate change, and the role of communities since I was in high school and was able to study this further in college at Georgia Tech. The impact keeps me in the energy efficiency sector. Being able to directly support and empower communities, uplift community perspective and voice, and be a champion for better outcomes for folks in the Southeast is a privilege I get to experience every day in this sector.
Royce: When I came to work at Old Dominion Electric Cooperatives(ODEC), I started in IT. When an opportunity came available in Member Services to work with our member-owner distribution cooperatives and facilitate the Energy Efficiency programs, I thought it was a great opportunity to learn about the energy side of the business.
McKenna: My journey into the energy efficiency industry was sparked by my work in building electrification and workforce development in the solar industry. Initially, I was fascinated by the technical aspects of how buildings could be transformed to use energy more cleanly and efficiently. This work opened my eyes to the broader implications of energy use in our daily lives and the potential for systemic change through smarter energy practices. As I delved deeper into this field, I became increasingly aware of the critical role that energy efficiency plays in combating climate change, reducing reliance on fossil fuels, and promoting a healthier environment.
The more I learned, the more I recognized the interdisciplinary nature of the challenge. It was not just about engineering and advocating for better systems but also about understanding the economic incentives for adoption, the regulatory environment, and the social impact of energy policies. This complexity made the field incredibly appealing to me, as it offered the chance to engage with a variety of stakeholders, from policymakers and business leaders to community organizers and homeowners.
Furthermore, the equity aspect of energy efficiency deeply resonated with me. I saw how targeted efficiency improvements could make a significant difference in low-income communities, often the most affected by high energy costs and pollution. This realization solidified my commitment to the sector, as I wanted to contribute to making energy efficiency solutions accessible and beneficial to all, regardless of their economic status. It’s a sector where I believe my efforts can contribute to meaningful, positive changes in the world, making it an endlessly inspiring field to be a part of.
Anitra: In my former role working with Home Revitalization Programs, I would refer my clients to the Energy Conservation Program once the Home Revitalization was completed. This became part of my program process. So, when the opportunity became available, I embraced it. I saw the impacts of energy efficiency and how small changes made a difference.
What do you think the biggest challenges and opportunities are for Black workers entering the field?
McKenna: For Black professionals entering the energy efficiency field, navigating the landscape comes with its own set of unique challenges and opportunities. A significant challenge many face, including myself, is overcoming systemic barriers. One of the most pressing issues is underrepresentation, which complicates finding mentorship and role models. This lack of representation can make it harder to navigate the industry and find the support needed to thrive.
On the other hand, the energy efficiency (EE) industry is brimming with potential, particularly as it begins to prioritize diversity, equity, and environmental justice. This shift is opening up avenues for Black professionals to take the lead and drive innovation. There’s a real chance here to develop sustainable energy solutions, policies, and businesses that not only improve the state as a whole but also specifically uplift communities that are disproportionately affected by energy challenges—like rural, BIPOC, and low-income areas (comprised of leaders who encompass these identities). The industry’s push towards embracing new technologies and tackling climate issues also creates a rich environment for entrepreneurial ventures and innovative projects.
What’s encouraging is the emergence of a support network dedicated to breaking down these systemic barriers and enhancing the representation of Black professionals in the field. However, it’s important to recognize that not all support efforts are created equal. Just because something looks like a bird and sounds like a bird, does not a bird make. True, justice-oriented support will be the key in providing meaningful mentorship, specialized training, and broader career opportunities for Black professionals in the EE industry.
Royce: The biggest challenge is identity. We need to see more African Americans working and operating in their own communities.
Anitra: I think the biggest challenge for any worker entering the field is transparency on how to get started, and where to go for resources.
Maggie: One of the largest challenges I faced was being able to see myself in a role. There are some incredible Black trailblazers in this industry, many of which are now being celebrated, honored, and valued at the federal level. When I came into the industry though, there were fewer individuals who were championing this space, and getting the recognition they deserved in doing so. I’m grateful to have the platforms I have, and to elevate voices of other Black leaders, so that younger Black folks and those who may want to transition to this space see that there is room for them here.
What is one thing about the industry you would like to see change? How can other groups help make that change?
Anitra: I would like to see workforce development opportunities for General Contractors in Energy Efficiency. By providing the opportunity to bridge the gap with licensed and insured contractors, we are paving the way for more experts working in the industry. Other groups can help make the change by design thinking, creating a seamless way to ensure opportunities through education and certification are met and General Contractors are incentivized with work opportunities upon certification completion.
Royce: I would like the industry to recruit from HBCUs, community colleges, and high schools to inform and educate people about the opportunities in the industry. It’s an evolving industry with never ending opportunities and there is so much to learn.
Maggie: I love the shift that is happening for investing in and working alongside communities who have been historically intentionally discriminated against, whether that is through the Justice40 lens or from other equity commitments or companies and organizations. There is so much further to go to meaningfully engage and support communities across the country to realize a clean energy and energy efficient future, though. One thing organizations and companies could do that I would love to see improved is paying people for their time. Community expertise is just as important, if not more important at times, as technical expertise. To do this work well, we need to ensure that when we write community groups, organizations, or representatives into our plans, that we also include them in our budgets.
McKenna: A pivotal shift I envision for the industry revolves around enhancing the inclusivity and justice orientation of entities within the energy efficiency (EE) workforce, ensuring they genuinely reflect the communities they serve. The challenge lies in the distribution of statewide formula funding from federal initiatives, which historically has favored organizations that, intentionally or not, have maintained a monopoly, sidelining partners from disinvested and historically disenfranchised communities. To foster a more equitable distribution, a concerted effort from all stakeholders is imperative. Federal and state agencies could revise funding criteria to prioritize inclusivity and collaboration. Meanwhile, industry leaders and funding bodies should facilitate platforms for dialogue and partnership, ensuring environmental justice and DEIJ-rooted community-based organizations are not just participants but leaders in shaping and implementing EE initiatives. This approach not only democratizes energy efficiency efforts but also amplifies their impact across the commonwealth, fostering a more inclusive and just energy transition.
What’s your favorite EE tip?
McKenna: One of the most effective EE tips I can offer is to consider installing a heat pump in your home. Heat pumps are a versatile and efficient solution for both heating and cooling, operating on the principle of transferring heat rather than generating it, which makes them incredibly energy-efficient. This means they can really help lower your energy bills and cut down on your carbon footprint. They’re good for both heating and cooling, adapting well to different climates, so you stay comfortable all year round. I encourage people to get an energy audit done to assess whether this technology is a right fit for their home!
Anitra: Change your filters, so your HVAC system does not work harder to keep you comfortable.
Maggie: My favorite EE tip is that small things add up. Weather stripping, changing out light bulbs, making sure your attic insulation is up to par, etc. can make huge differences in not just energy bills, but also the comfort and health of your space!
Royce: Cooking on the grill on warm days!! Good food and fun!!
What advice would you give to another member of the Black community when entering the field?
Maggie: I advise everyone to reach out to people in the industry that inspire you. Shoot your shot, as they say. There are so many incredible people who would be more than willing to connect with you, serve as mentors, and see you shine in this industry. This doesn’t have to be a lonely experience – we want to help you!
Royce: The industry is evolving so quickly and there is so much to learn, and the industry provides job security and stability. I have worked in the industry for 25 years and I continue to grow and develop.
McKenna: Keep believing in the heart of the mission, no matter what fluff you see surrounding you. The mission can be personal. For me, I believe energy efficiency is an important tool in the clean energy transition toolbox. It means that this tool has the collective power of alleviating and mitigating the suffering of millions across the country, much less hundreds of thousands in the Commonwealth.
It means that in your own unique way, the work you are engaged in means something to someone out there. Stay motivated by the difference your contributions make, however big or small, knowing that each step forward is a stride towards a justice-oriented world. Believe in your voice and ask yourself and your collaborators, what is our vision if we cease to believe in the mission?
Anitra: The work in this field changes lives, the assistance you provide will have an impact on the lives of others.
What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had?
Anitra: When I was working in the field, I spent the day with my Energy Auditor. We visited a home that applied for the Department of Social Services Crisis program, they had no heat. When we arrived at the home, the father replaced the flue on the wood stove with a dryer vent hose. He created a fire in the wood stove using gasoline. The gas containers were between the wall and the back of the wood stove. Due to age, the entire unit was glowing. I am so glad we were able to prevent a bad situation escalating to something worse.
McKenna: Reflecting on the most unconventional role I’ve had, working as a mortician’s assistant stands out. This role, while initially seeming “weird,” offered profound insights into the cycles of life and death, teaching me invaluable lessons about authenticity and purpose. The experiences gained in this position- observing the finality of life and the importance of living with intention—have profoundly influenced my approach to social impact work, especially in areas like energy justice and climate mental health. It underscored the significance of embracing each day with purpose and has guided my career trajectory in meaningful ways.
Royce: The weirdest job I ever did was to go out in the field to probe a meter.
Maggie: I thankfully haven’t had many weird jobs, but in high school I volunteered in school collecting people’s old shoes for recycling. Very smelly work!
On Thursday, February 8th, the Virginia Energy Efficiency Council Board and staff were invited to be recognized on the House of Delegates floor in support of the House Joint Resolution to designate October 4th as Energy Efficiency Day! While Chelsea has been camped out at the GA to help with legislator education, Jessica and Rebecca took their first field trip to the new building. We were excited to meet so many legislators and staffers throughout the day.
Four Board members joined us at the House chamber gallery during the Morning Hour, which is the first hour of the Session, while Delegate Sullivan, a long-time champion for energy efficiency, introduced the VAEEC. We appreciate his ongoing support of our organization. You can view the video of our recognition below!
VAEEC GA Recognition
We later learned that the HJ6, the resolution to designate EE day, passed on an 83-7 vote. Now Virginia has joined dozens of other states in recognizing the value and importance of energy efficiency, not just on one day, but every day.
Check out our photo gallery below.
Last December, Dominion filed an application with the State Corporation Commission (SCC) for its proposed Phase XI DSM programs. This filing included three new energy efficiency programs, four new EE program “bundles,” one demand response program, and one EV telematics pilot program. The company requested a $149M budget cap with a 15% variance. In addition to the new programs, Dominion asked to permanently close its appliance recycling program and expand its agricultural program to residential customers who run small, family farms. The Company requested to close an additional seven other programs whose measures were being rolled into the proposed program bundles.
Our Executive Director, Chelsea Harnish, filed testimony on behalf of the Virginia Energy Efficiency Council (VAEEC) in support of the Phase XI programs with a few concerns and suggestions for improvement.
Here is a summary of other highlights from our testimony:
- Leveraging functionalities of AMI to enhance the effectiveness of DSM programs
- Expanding program offerings to dual-fuel customers (those with gas heat and electric AC)
- Quantifying whether funding from the Inflation Reduction Act could lower program costs
- Including Non-Energy Benefits (e.g., Social Cost of Carbon) in cost/benefit test scores
- Requiring BPI certification for the Residential Home Retrofit Program Bundle
On May 17, 2023, the case was heard before the Hearing Examiner assigned to oversee the case. The Examiner was very supportive of the stakeholder process and stated several times that parties were “on notice” to vet new program ideas and areas of concern through the stakeholder process. This is the first time that a Hearing Examiner has put such an emphasis on the value of the stakeholder process. We hope the Commission’s Final Order reflects this same sentiment.
Meeting the Goals of the Virginia Clean Economy Act
As part of the application, company witnesses shared the progress towards meeting the Energy Efficiency Resource Standard (EERS) goals of the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA). According to Dominion, the Commission has not made it clear whether they should calculate Gross savings (all savings achieved in a given year) or Net savings (all savings achieved in a given year minus free riders), so they provided calculated savings for both. As seen in the table below, provided by company witness Nate Frost, the company has met the 2022 goal either way but is only able to achieve the 2023 goal with gross savings calculations. For the 2024 and 2025 goals, the company is projected to not meet either goal under either scenario.
|VCEA Target %
|Projected/ Actual Gross Savings
|Projected/ Actual Net Savings
In pre-filed testimony, SCC staff witness Andrew Boehnlein noted that Dominion will have a projected shortfall of 1180 GWh in meeting the 2025 energy-savings goal. Mr. Boehnlein also calculated that the proposed Phase XI programs would only cover 5% of the shortfall in 2024 and 7% in 2025. Given that there are no further opportunities for new programs in 2024, the company must prioritize implementing recommendations from its long-term plan filed as part of last year’s filing (Phase X) to bridge the gap in 2024.
Company witnesses identified several market barriers they believe are impeding the company’s success in meeting its goals. These challenges include declining potential and updated building codes. The VAEEC questioned the extent to which these were barriers during the proceeding. For instance, current building codes should only be used as the baseline for determining the savings potential for new construction programs since it is unlikely that homes constructed prior to the last 3-5 years would meet more stringent energy codes. In interrogatories, company witnesses confirmed they only use current building codes for new construction programs. Since the company only has one residential new construction program, current energy-efficient building codes are unlikely to severely affect the company’s ability to meet its EERS goals.
All utilities experience declining potential, the continual reduction of savings opportunities out in the market, especially for lighting products as federal regulations have required more efficient product manufacturing. However, declining potential is not the same for every utility. Utilities that have been implementing programs over several decades find that declining potential can severely affect new program opportunities. However, for Dominion, who only began offering energy efficiency programs in 2009, and has low participation numbers in most of their programs, there is still a lot of potential energy savings to be captured.
As mentioned, Dominion’s participation numbers are low. SCC staff witness Mr. Boehnlein summarized data from the Company’s 2022 EM&V report. In 2021, the average residential program achieved approximately 45% of expected participation and 57% of estimated energy savings. For the non-residential programs, the average was 43% of expected participation and 32% of estimated 2021 savings. Staff surmised that based on previous program performance, the Company’s projected participation rates for the proposed Phase XI programs are higher than any program that has been implemented to date. In other words, the proposed programs will cover less than 5% of the estimated shortfall in 2024 and 7% in 2025.
Mr. Boehnlein also noted that the 2022 EM&V report stated portfolio bill savings for customers were approximately $26.6M while program costs were more than double at about $59.8M with 43% of those costs being administrative in nature.
Hearing Examiner’s Report and Recommendations
On June 16, 2023, the Examiner issued his recommendations to the Commission, which included approval of all programs, with the $149M budget cap and 15% variance, with no program expiration date. While the budget variance request and not having a predetermined closure date are standard in other states, in Virginia, these requests were typically denied by the SCC up until last year.
The Hearing Examiner was thorough in his review of the case and analyzed all of the remaining issues one by one. In most instances, the Examiner validated suggestions and concerns brought up by the VAEEC and recommended the SCC direct the company to address each one via the stakeholder group and require the company to report on these issues in their next DSM filing. These issues include:
- Cost-effectiveness testing: VAEEC recommended analyzing non-energy benefits, such as the societal cost of carbon and health benefits
- Allowing dual-fuel customers to participate in most programs: VAEEC recommended allowing customers who use gas furnaces to heat their homes and electric AC to keep their homes cool should be allowed to participate in most, if not all, programs. The Examiner not only recommended this become a stakeholder discussion but also noted that if the company is projected to miss their 2024 and 2025 VCEA goals, then expanding customer eligibility could have an “immediate and measurable impact on achieving those savings targets….”
- Accelerating program consolidation: In last year’s filing, VAEEC expressed concern with the Company’s plan to not begin bundling programs until existing contracts with implementation vendors end (i.e. 2025 at the earliest). The company took this feedback and offered four new bundled programs in this year’s filing. Other respondents expressed the need to continue bundling programs into the seven overarching programs laid out in the long-term plan, which the company agreed to discuss where practical. The Hearing Examiner agreed that acceleration was critical in order to pursue, “immediate and measurable impact on achieving those savings targets….” in 2024 and 2025.
- Exploring and incorporating full AMI functionality into DSM programs: VAEEC recommended the company leverage AMI functionality in DSM programs. The company is committed to exploring these functionalities via its grid modernization applications. The Examiner noted what little time is left to increase participation levels and savings in the company’s DSM programs to achieve their 2024 and 2025 goals, stating, “I believe the Company does not have the time to sit back and address the issue as part of its grid transformation program, and for that reason, I am recommending that the issue be referred to the Stakeholder Group for consideration and analysis over the upcoming year.” The Examiner also went on to recommend a pilot program to deploy in areas with high concentrations of AMI deployment.
Additionally, the Hearing Examiner made recommendations on the following key issues as well:
- BPI certification- The Hearing Examiner provided an alternative recommendation to what the VAEEC, the environmental respondents, and public witnesses recommended. He recommends that BPI certification should not be required for HVAC measures, but appears to require this certification for contractors performing ductwork in addition to continuing to require BPI certification for thermal envelope measures. In terms of the VA Residential Energy Building Analyst License, the examiner stated that the statute is clear that this license is required for any type of residential energy assessment and suggested the company consult with the VA Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation in regards to whether such license would be required for contractors performing assessments as part of the Residential Home Retrofit Bundle.
- Implementation plan- the environmental respondent witness, Jim Grevatt, recommended the Commission require Dominion to demonstrate how it could meet its EERS goals by filing an implementation plan within 90 days of the release of the Commission’s Final Order. The Hearing Examiner largely agreed with Mr. Grevatt but provided an alternative recommendation suggesting the Commission require Dominion to prepare a Project Management Plan and Risk Management Strategy consistent with the Commission’s Final Order in the 2020 DSM Case detailing completed tasks, tasks to be completed within the next twelve months, and tasks that remain to be completed in order to fully implement the LTP.
- Net vs. Gross calculated savings- Environmental Respondents and Dominion argued over how the EERS goals in the VCEA should be calculated- as either “gross” or “net” savings. In Mr. Grevatt’s testimony, on behalf of the environmental respondents, he argued that the Commission provided direction on this in the Final Order last year stating that, “specific savings that can be reasonably identified, and that were not achieved as a result of Dominion’s programs and measures,” should not be counted towards the EERS goals (i.e. the savings should be calculated as “net”). Dominion disagreed, arguing that the ruling was not clear and that the analysis of “gross” and “net” savings is complex and should be deferred until the first EERS compliance case next year. While the Hearing Examiner agreed with environmental respondents that the Commission explicitly state that the EERS savings should be calculated as “net” savings, he also agreed with the Company that in light of the complexity of the issue, the decision should be deferred until next year, “in a case where the issues are fully developed in an evidentiary record.”
In summary, the Hearing Examiner’s report details a lot of issues and opportunities for Dominion to meet its EERS goals in 2024 and 2025. The VAEEC and our members have worked diligently to provide feedback and support through the stakeholder process and the DSM proceeding and applaud the Examiner for recognizing the importance of stakeholder engagement.
We anticipate the Commission’s Final Order sometime in August. We hope to see most of these recommendations included and we will be ready to get to work.
The passage of the Virginia Clean Economy Act set lofty energy savings goals for the investor-owned utilities, in order to meet their greenhouse gas reduction targets by 2045. While there are multiple paths to achieving these goals, a recent report from ACEEE suggests that one key to success could be stronger building codes.
Over the next five years, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) will allocate $1.2M towards code training and enforcement. In the ACEEE report, Virginia ranked sixth as one of the best positioned states to take advantage of this new funding to improve its energy codes across the residential, commercial, and industrial sectors.
According to ACEEE, Virginia needs to see the most emissions reduction by 2030 to meet its policy targets. While the VCEA savings targets are focused on cleaning up the grid, building codes can address both new construction and the existing building stock, which accounts for 40% of energy consumption nationwide. Based on their analysis, ACEEE found that Virginia needs to reduce emissions by more than 50% to meet the VCEA goals.
In Virginia, the commercial building code aligns with the IECC model code, but gaps in enforcement and code official training mean the state could save an additional 5-10% on energy costs by utilizing federal funds.
On the residential side, our current code is missing two critical provisions that would align with the 2021 IECC model code – improved R-value for wall insulation, and enhanced building tightness to reduce the number of air changes per hour. By adopting these amendments, ACEEE found that there could be a 17.8% reduction in energy costs. (Learn about the the Virginia building code update process on our website.)
The report also found that Virginia ranked in the median for homes built nationwide. Meaning, approximately 1700 new homes were built across the state in 2019, with the data projecting similar growth moving forward. New home construction is a great opportunity for increased energy efficiency.
Bringing the Uniform Statewide Building Code up to IECC standards and improving code enforcement, can help the state achieve up to 20% in residential energy cost-savings.
While the building code applies more directly to new construction, retrofits are a pathway to reducing emissions and costs in existing buildings as well. ACEEE also looked at carbon emissions from existing buildings and found that, in 2019, over 5 tons of CO2 per capita – equivalent to driving 12,000 miles in a standard gas SUV – were released from Virginia’s existing building stock. By 2050, as much as two-thirds of existing buildings statewide will have been constructed prior to 2020, therefore it is increasingly critical to address existing buildings, in addition to new construction. Utility residential energy efficiency programs will play a major role in reducing emissions from existing housing, thereby highlighting the need for a holistic approach to reducing carbon emissions from Virginia’s built environment.
The timing on the implementation of these federal dollars couldn’t be better. However, deployment of these funds must be part of a comprehensive strategy that takes into account Virginia policy. Facilitating these types of conversations with decision-makers is a role that the Virginia Energy Efficiency Council, and our members, can play. We look forward to that opportunity. Check our new federal funding page and our monthly e-newsletters for continued updates on this important work.
A new program launched by Dominion Energy provides a kit of smart home technology with an instant rebate to eligible customers in Virginia.
New Smart Home technology helps customers save energy and be more aware of the electric use in their home. To help customers adopt this new technology, Dominion Energy is offering eligible customers in Virginia as well as North Carolina rebates on smart home products.
The Smart Home program gives customers the opportunity to purchase a smart home kit on the program website, smarthome.domsavings.com, with an instant $25 rebate. The base kit includes a Kasa Smart Plug with Energy Monitoring, two Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Plug Minis, the Philips Hue Smart White Ambiance LED Starter Kit and a Philips Hue Motion Sensor.
Customers can enhance their smart home setup by adding an ecobee Smart Thermostat ($50 rebate) or Sense Home Energy Monitor ($70 rebate) to their kit purchase, and each is available with an additional instant rebate. The Sense Energy Monitor must be installed in your electric panel by a licensed electrician.
As such, electricians as well as solar installers with on-staff licensed electricians can become participating contractors with Dominion’s Smart Home Program. Participating contractors benefit from the program in many ways including getting listed on Dominion’s website and access to free training. To learn more about becoming a participating contractor including the eligibility requirements, visit www.dom-vendor.com.
With integration between smart home devices and a smartphone and / or voice assistant, customers will have increased control over their home’s energy use, even remotely. Customers will have the ability to put your devices on a schedule, allow devices to perform energy-efficient actions on their own, and connect to other smart technologies.
Learn more about how the program helps customers leverage integrated energy-efficient smart home products to reduce and manage a home’s energy consumption. Visit smarthome.domsavings.com for more information. Terms and Conditions and eligibility requirements apply. Subject to change at any time.
The building code update process in Virginia is underway this year. Workgroups have begun to meet to discuss proposals that have been submitted to DHCD for review. Below are several energy proposals that are currently under consideration by the DHCD energy subgroup committee, on which VAEEC executive director, Chelsea Harnish participates.
Note: You will need to register for a free account on the DHCD website to access the links below.
Proposals under consideration that the VAEEC supports:
EC-C407.6-21: Zero energy construction proposal to align all energy conservation codes with the 2021 IECC
REC-R402.1.2(1)-21: strikes VA amendments to fully adopt the 2021 IECC wall insulation requirements; this proposal was submitted by VAEEC member, Eric Lacey, of the Responsible Energy Codes Alliance (RECA). Using the DOE methodology for reviewing code change proposals, RECA determined that this proposal alone would improve efficiency a whopping 13%!
REC-R402.1.2(2)-21: strikes VA amendments to fully adopt the 2021 IECC wall insulation requirements; identical to the proposal above but submitted by a different patron.
REC-R402.4-21: strikes VA amendments to fully adopt the 2021 IECC air leakage requirements
REC-R402.4.1.2-21: requires 3ACH for air leakage but also provides a trade off for builders
REC-R403.3.3-21: updates air duct testing compliance to align with 2021 IECC
Additionally, the subgroup is also considering a proposal on electric vehicles:
REC-R404.2-21: Electric vehicles proposal to align residential energy code with the 2021 IECC
The Energy subgroup has taken positions on the following proposals, which were reviewed by the full working group on April 14th.
EC-C402.4-21: (Consensus) technical amendment to strikes Virginia amendment language currently in the Virginia Construction Code of the USBC that are either outdated or align with the 2021 IECC
EC1301.1.1.1-21: (Non-consensus) strikes Virginia amendments to fully adopt the 2021 IECC
America has a building problem.
Americans spend up to 90% of their lives indoors, in buildings that were not designed with ventilation in mind. The quality of indoor air affects all aspects of life – health, school and job performance, cognitive abilities, and energy bills.
While COVID-19 brought indoor air quality into sharp focus, many of the most common – and often dangerous – communicable illnesses are spread through airborne transmission. Additionally, chronic illnesses like asthma, cardiovascular disease, and COPD are exacerbated by factors in the living environment. Comparative risk studies performed by EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) have consistently ranked indoor air pollution among the top five environmental risks to public health. In fact, there is over thirty years of research on the effects of indoor air quality on human health and behavior.
Improvements to air filtration and ventilation have lagged behind other building systems for years, leading to what Dr. Vin Gupta, the Chief Health Officer at Amazon, calls “the biggest challenge for public and workspaces of this century.”
“Go back 100 years. The big issue that was killing people were communicable diseases passed fecal to oral,” Gupta said. This issue led to improvements in sanitation and waste disposal across the world. “100 years later, it is how do we ventilate public space and workplaces.”
Building owners and residents need to prioritize improved indoor air quality in their spaces. “Treat indoor air quality like a must-have work benefit, not a trendy perk” said Prof. Joseph Allen, associate professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Allen is also leading ongoing research on the correlation between indoor air quality and health.
Allen was a leading author on a recent study that explored the coexistence of energy efficiency and health. The third in a series that focused on the effects of air quality on cognitive function, researchers concluded that cognitive scores averaged between 61-101% higher in green building designs over conventional buildings. The authors stated these findings have “wide-ranging implications” as the study mimicked many typical indoor environments.
Typically, increases in ventilation and filtration result in an increase in energy use, but by leveraging equipment controls and efficient equipment, these programs help building owners and residents keep energy increases manageable.
George Barnes, Account Manager for Complex Solutions for Trane said, “the challenge is to complete [measures] in an energy efficient manner. If done correctly, spaces will be safer, occupants will be healthier, and any cost increases will be mitigated.”
Energy efficiency and green building also reduces absenteeism in schools and the workplace, improves workforce retention and productivity, and contributes to better comfort for residents and workers. As employers bring workers back into physical offices, it is critical that everyone – building owners, CEOs, employees, and more – keep a keen eye on the health of the buildings and the people within them.
On October 27th, the SCC released the final order for the Dominion Energy EM&V proceeding. For this proceeding, the VAEEC acquired expert witness, Mark James, Senior Research Fellow in the Institute for Energy and the Environment and adjunct professor at Vermont Law School to testify on our behalf. Additionally, staff from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy also provided technical assistance to our legal counsel and expert witness. In their final order, the Commission elected to adopt all of the recommendations in the Hearing Examiner’s report, which was released in July.
Below is a summary of all of the Hearing Examiner’s findings and recommendations to the Commission with additional details on key recommendations. We have listed the page numbers in the report for the discussion on each recommendation so the reader can easily dive deeper into any recommendation of interest.
- The focus of this proceeding is on adopting a more rigorous and accurate EM&V, and not on whether the Company’s current EM&V meets industry standards (p 44-50); VAEEC maintained “nationally-recognized TRMs that follow industry best practices, along with new commitments on EM&V that the Company is making in its post-hearing brief, can and will provide the accuracy that the Commission rightly demand”;
- The Commission should direct Staff to participate in the stakeholder process as a stakeholder to work with the Company and others to develop more rigorous and accurate EM&V data (p 50-53); James said, “With the newly established EM&V subgroup, the stakeholder process offers the opportunity for transparent presentation and discussion of options outside of a Commission proceeding. The recommendations generated by the EM&V subgroup would still be subject to Commission approval, but the products of the stakeholder group would be created through a transparent, collaborative, and consensus-driven process. Furthermore, using the stakeholder group allows for greater participation from interested parties and energy efficiency experts.” While SCC staff was concerned that participation would undermine their credibility, the Commission stated that they speak only through their Orders, not through Staff.
- The Commission should adopt the dashboard proposed by Company witness Frost in his rebuttal testimony (p 53-55), and attached to this Report as Attachment 1 (p 78); “The Company’s proposed dashboard represents an executive summary of high-level metrics that is easy to read and understood
at a glance. It focuses on spending, savings, metrics noted in the VCEA (such as carbon emission reductions and bill savings), and progress towards the GTSA and VCEA targets.”
- The Commission should adopt the reporting requirements committed to by Dominion Energy as further outlined in the Discussion (p 55-57); Adoption by the Commission should provide all interested parties clarity concerning the information to be provided by the Company and when that information will be provided. The provisions for using formats proposed by VAEEC witness James (or formats substantially similar) provides some flexibility as to the final format for these filings. Going forward changes in format or in the information provided can be addressed in future DSM proceedings.
- The Commission should direct Dominion Energy to file the May EM&V Report in the Company’s December DSM filings (p 57-58); If the entire EM&V Report from May were also filed at the beginning of the new DSM proceeding, at the time of filing, it would represent the most current EM&V Report.
- Deemed input values meet the measured and verified standard for determining compliance with the energy-saving requirements of the VCEA (p 58-62); VAEEC argued that, because it is impossible to measure electricity not consumed, all EM&V methods rely on extrapolations and have some margin of error and uncertainty. Indeed, VAEEC maintained “the use of Virginia-specific inputs as recommended by Staff might prove to be less accurate than results based on deemed values.” VAEEC extended this to utility-specific data that may be less accurate and reliable than deemed values based on limitations of the utility-specific sample as compared to deemed values based on larger populations over longer periods of time. VAEEC recommended the Commission adopt the Company’s updated EM&V approach
as it is more rigorous and accurate than what was reviewed in 2019.
- To increase the rigor and accuracy of the EM&V process, the Commission should adopt a combination of the Company’s proposed framework and the Staff’s proposed hierarchical framework, with both frameworks as further modified herein (p 62-73);
- The Commission should direct the Company to document the baselines used during program design and all subsequent adjustments or changes to the baselines, and provide the documentation to Staff and the other parties upon request (p 73-75);
- The Commission should direct the Company to increase the coordination between DNV and the program designer(s) consistent with their commitment in this proceeding (p 75); and
- The Commission should direct the Company to undertake at least one baseline study based on Staff’s input. In the final order, the Commission required Dominion to select two programs to use in baseline studies to establish their own baselines for energy savings. The Company has ninety days from the final order to present this information to the SCC.
It’s no secret that technology has changed many aspects of the energy efficiency industry. From building automation systems to LED lighting, there have been many strides in improving the energy use of the inside of a building. But what about the structure itself? The thermal envelope, and the materials used to construct it, account for a large portion of a building’s energy use, contributing to an estimated $372 billion in heating and cooling costs each year.
On September 21st, we held a panel with companies who have created innovative materials that are helping address these issues while improving building efficiency, providing resident comfort, and reducing energy costs.
First, we heard from Mike Lyon with Aerobarrier, which is an inert sealant based on permeable waterborne acrylic. The product is aerosolized in a pressurized space and monitored continuously with proprietary software to achieve maximum efficiency. Originally invented in 1993, the Aeroseal and Aerobarrier products have sealed over 100,000 homes to improve their efficiency, indoor air quality, and comfort. Aerobarrier was able to scale this technology nationwide by using a franchised certified dealer network, which allows the corporate home base to keep advancing both the sealant and the software. “This partnership model allowed us to scale up very quickly, reaching 40 states and Canada in the last five years,” said Lyon.
Next, we heard from Dr. Aashay Arora, a co-founder of Enkoat, which addresses insulation needs from a different perspective. This Arizona based startup, backed by the National Science Foundation, has developed a thermal coating that can be applied like a traditional construction paint to plaster, stucco, and wall panels. Founded by Dr. Arora and Dr. Matthew Aguayo in 2018, Enkoat focuses on developing sustainable solutions for the construction industry. By using their Active Insulation technology, pilot homes were able to reduce their energy use by 30% over a year. Dr. Arora notes that, while the building industry is very conservative, they are “moving slowly towards materials that are carbon neutral, sustainable, and have longer life.”
Finally, we heard from Zack Mannheimer with Alquist 3D, which works to address the housing shortage across rural and suburban America by creating affordable 3D printed concrete homes, including two homes in collaboration with Virginia Tech located in Williamsburg and the greater Richmond area. With the compound problems of COVID-19, skyrocketing materials costs, and rapidly inflating housing prices, more than 30 million people are expected to move away from major cities by 2023 – and they’re going to need somewhere to live. By reducing the upfront costs of building, and carefully controlling the materials needed to produce a home, Alquist 3D is able to address these needs. They are also working with One Vision Holdings to move toward hemp-based concrete and insulation, reducing the carbon impacts of concrete.
To learn more about these technologies, watch the recording of our recent webinar, Innovating the Building Envelope.
The Dominion Energy proceeding on Evaluation, Measurement, and Verification (EM&V) before the SCC will be held next week. The VAEEC is formally participating in this hearing in support of EM&V measures that will help ensure the energy efficiency goals of the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) are met. EM&V is a critical first step in quantifying the value of energy efficiency programs, which allows demand-side management resources, like energy efficiency, to compete with supply-side resources, such as a natural gas plant, in meeting future energy needs in a cleaner, healthier way.
The inherent challenge of evaluating energy efficiency programs is that there is no simple “meter” to record kilowatt-hours saved. As a result, a baseline needs to be established to identify what would happen in that program’s absence. However, there must be a balance between the cost of evaluation and the benefits of obtaining more precise data, as the pursuit of precision can siphon funds from the actual implementation of that energy efficiency program without adding significant benefit. To accomplish that balance, most utilities use deemed savings, or reasonable and unbiased estimates of energy and cost savings based on standard industry methods.
During their pre-filed testimony, the SCC staff questioned the use of deemed savings and non-Virginia data and recommended establishing customized baselines for each individual program currently underway, despite this being against industry best practices. The VAEEC has serious concerns about this recommendation. Every dollar spent on EM&V is a dollar that cannot be spent on providing actual program services to customers. A requirement to use only Virginia-specific data or a rejection of deemed savings estimates can drive up EM&V costs without always providing improvement in EM&V data.
We have several recommendations that would ensure the best use of program dollars without unnecessary spending on duplicate data gathering.
- Join the Mid-Atlantic Technical Resource Manual (TRM): A TRM provides the value of previous evaluation efforts while maintaining the flexibility to adapt to local- or utility-specific conditions such as lifespan estimates for specific measures, operating hours, baseline conditions, and local climatic conditions. When performing EM&V on their programs, Dominion already defers first to the Mid-Atlantic TRM, then factors in Virginia-specific data when appropriate. Formally joining the Mid-Atlantic TRM would provide uniformity in evaluation across all Virginia utilities and would further increase transparency into the process itself.
- Allow Flexible, Portfolio-Level EM&V Spending: The Commission should set spending caps at the portfolio level to allow for greater flexibility and additional energy-saving benefits. After reviewing EM&V data, a utility should be able to shift funds between programs (e.g., 10 percent to 15 percent) without having to seek additional approval. Removing these caps would permit greater flexibility, which can ultimately boost the energy savings generated from the portfolio without imposing additional costs on customers.
- Stakeholder Input: Allow the stakeholder group to assist in developing consensus for EM&V methods. With the newly established EM&V subgroup, an opportunity is provided to present and discuss options for EM&V methods and protocols outside of a Commission proceeding. By using the Mid-Atlantic TRM for this purpose, the stakeholder group would avoid the unnecessarily burdensome process of developing and approving the specifics of every measure-specific or program-specific baseline. The recommendations generated by the EM&V subgroup would still be subject to Commission approval, but the products of the stakeholder group would be created through a transparent, collaborative, and consensus-driven process.
- Dashboard: We support the requirement of both a quarterly “dashboard” and “annual summary”. A dashboard should provide a program-by-program snapshot of key activities, such as participation numbers and program spending, in order to track how the company’s energy efficiency portfolio is progressing throughout the year. The annual summary would contain audited and finalized savings for the company’s DSM programs to ensure compliance with the GTSA and the VCEA.
If you want to dive into this a little more, you can read our expert witness’ pre-filed testimony here.