Using Efficiency to Combat COVID-19: Technologies to Keep Us Safe

by Rebecca Hui, Office Manager at VAEEC

When business owners shut off the lights this spring, they had no idea that months later, the nation would still be in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s no secret that this virus has irreversibly changed the world around us, and continues to do so with every new development. This three part series will focus on the ways VAEEC members are meeting these challenges head on to keep their customers and their communities safe. 

So what does energy efficiency have to do with COVID-19? A surprising amount. Research shows that the buildings where people work, live, and play can dramatically affect their health. A 2019 study from VAEEC member, VEIC, stated that Americans spent nearly 70% of their time in their homes – and that was well before stay-at-home orders and social distancing went into effect. Poor insulation, leaky windows, aging appliances, and improper ventilation all contribute to many of the leading causes of death in the U.S.: asthma, heart disease, chronic respiratory illness, and stroke (ACEEE 2019). While energy efficiency measures have been helping to address many of these problems for years, the new, acute threat of COVID-19 has forced the industry to rapidly adapt to changing – and sometimes contradictory – needs. 

New Challenges

While many things about COVID-19 remain unknown, data shows that one thing is clear – the virus spreads faster indoors, and as viral load and exposure time increase, so does the likelihood of infection. ACEEE recently stated that, of 1,500 known superspreader events, only three took place entirely outdoors. This reality has brought ventilation and indoor air quality into laser focus for many businesses and commercial and multi-family building owners as they scramble to meet the changing needs of their staff, customers, and residents. 

“If we can take one good thing out of [the pandemic], it’s bringing a focus to the building environment and how healthy that building environment can be for occupants,” said Chris Rawlings, Chief Energy Officer of VeteranLED. In light of the pandemic, experts recommend increasing the number of air changes per hour in a building and running HVAC systems continuously to flush out potentially infectious air. Although outdoor air dilutes contaminants,  increasing ventilation rates reduces the energy efficiency of the space, leading to a tricky balance between safety and rising energy costs. To solve this problem, many are looking toward technology. 

VAEEC Board member 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.” 

New Ventures

Customers aren’t the only ones looking for ways to help keep their businesses afloat. The energy efficiency industry has been hit hard by the pandemic, causing many businesses to adapt to a new set of needs. For Rawlings, this meant a hard pivot into previously unknown territory – installing UVGI systems. 

Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI) has been used for decades to help stop the spread of infectious diseases. It uses shortwave ultraviolet radiation, or UV-C, to damage the microbe’s DNA, which in the case of coronaviruses, causes the outer protein coating to break down and render the virus inactive. Because UV-C radiation is only effective when in direct contact with a pathogen, it has to be correctly implemented to combat COVID-19 and other diseases. There are two common strategies for using UVGI systems: integrating the fixtures into the HVAC system, and using “upper room” systems.  

In-Line Duct systems use UVGI lighting inside the ducts of a building, passing air through the radiation and rendering microbes incapable of replicating. These solutions also incorporate HEPA or other high-efficiency filtration systems to remove the contaminants from the air. 

Meanwhile, “upper room” systems irradiate the air near the ceiling of a room, above the heads of any inhabitants, and use fans and circulators to move the air in the lower part of the room into the irradiation zone. While UV-C is less harmful to humans than other types of UV radiation, UVGI still must be carefully and correctly implemented to reduce exposure. 

VeteranLED has been installing and designing energy efficient building systems since 2014, but incorporating UVGI technology was a completely new challenge. By “really diving into the research” and applying his experience, Rawlings developed an integrated air purification system that uses UVGI lighting in an in-line duct system and hospital grade UV-C fixtures that can sterilize surfaces when the space is not occupied. 

“We’ve been able to tap into resources and networks where [health] has been a priority since the get-go, like hospitals and laboratories,” said Rawlings. VeteranLED was hired to install their air purification systems in 20 Silver Diner restaurants across the Midatlantic region. 

New Directions

For other organizations, COVID-19 has meant doubling down on the technologies they already offer. Siemens has been a long time leading provider of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies. The question, for them, was how to adapt their existing portfolio to meet the changing needs of Siemens’ customers? 

“As a company that diligently practices a ‘Zero Harm’ culture, we had to learn how to protect our employees and our customers while ensuring our communities most important infrastructure assets were operating and available to serve their mission,” said Michele Mitch-Peterson, Ingenuity Consultant for Siemens Smart Infrastructure team. Siemens provides an array of high-performance building systems, including occupancy and temperature sensors, energy performance management systems, and non-ozone producing ionization technology. 

Building automation systems, or BAS, is an automated, central control system that manages the HVAC, lighting, security, and other interrelated systems in a building. Automation systems use a variety of tools such as sensors and controls to improve comfort and reduce energy use and maintenance costs. These technologies have been advancing in both complexity and popularity since the early 2000’s, and have been adopted in most new commercial, industrial, and institutional construction. Siemens has been on the forefront of much of this innovation. 

“In the midst of all the uncertainty COVID-19 caused, we really sought to find projects and innovations to minimize the impact on our customers and give them certainty around energy savings, especially with buildings not being occupied,” said Peterson. Siemens was able to work with customers to implement specific energy reduction plans based on current usage. Using a variety of their proprietary solutions, they were able to automatically adjust systems due to reduced demand, continuously monitor buildings via Fault Detection and Diagnostics, and analyze sub-meter data to determine the effects of actions taken and identify areas where further energy savings could be achieved. 

“It has been an extremely challenging period, but also extremely rewarding as we have found new ways to serve our customers.”

Energy Awareness Bingo

Play all October for a chance to win a virtual home energy audit from Viridiant!

October 1st kicks off National Energy Awareness Month, a time to promote the importance of energy efficiency, discover new ways to become more efficient, and reflect on your own energy consumption. To get everyone in on the fun, the Virginia Energy Efficiency Council will be orchestrating Energy Awareness Bingo! Get rewarded for energy-efficient measures you have already implemented while learning about additional ways to reduce your energy footprint. Winners will be entered into a raffle to win a virtual home energy audit* from Viridiant! The raffle winner will be announced at our free virtual Fall Forum on November 10th.

See official rules and a description of the prize at the bottom of the page. Contact us at info@vaeec.org with any questions.

Guidelines

  1. Sign up to play. Simply fill out this quick form to download a bingo card.
  2. Once you receive your virtual bingo card, mark any of the squares that contain an energy efficiency measure that you have taken at your home. Marks can be done virtually or by printing out your card and writing on it.
    • To qualify, all energy efficiency measures must have been implemented within the past three years.
  3. Have fun while learning new ways to make your home more efficient!
  4. If you get “bingo”, take a photo or screenshot of your card and post it to social media. Get creative! Be sure to tag us and use the hashtag #EEbingo.
  5. Register for the virtual Fall Forum on November 10th to see if your name is drawn for the grand prize, a virtual home energy audit from Viridiant.

Tips to Reduce Your Energy Consumption – and Utility Bills

Below you will find a brief description of the measures or habits included on each card. The majority of them are no- or low-cost measures or simple behavioral changes that reduce your energy consumption and save you money on your utility bills.

  1. Use smart power strips. Many electronics produce “phantom loads”, which refers to the electricity used by electronics when they are either in standby mode or are turned off. This wasted energy can cost you up to $200 per year. In fact, estimates suggest that stand by power accounts for over $11 billion in annual U.S. energy costs. Smart power strips shut off the power to electronics when they are not in use.
  2. Install low-flow plumbing fixtures. Along with saving water, low-flow plumbing fixtures reduce the energy it takes to heat the water. Even without new, efficient fixtures, you can save money by making more conscious decisions. For example, turn off the water when you’re brushing your teeth or shaving, and don’t rinse dishes before placing them in the dishwasher.
  3. Add (additional) attic insulation. Attic insulation slows the rate of heat leaving the house in the winter or entering the house in the summer, thus requiring less energy to heat or cool your home. If your older home already has insulation, it might be time to add more. Insulation settles with age, thus reducing it’s R-value. Homeowners typically reduce their heating and cooling costs by up to $200 by adding insulation and air sealing their homes. This includes sealing the entire home’s thermal envelope, such as the foundation, walls, roof, doors, and windows (think anything that separates your living space from the outside).
  4. Use a smart, programmable thermostat. Programmable thermostats automatically turn off or reduce heating and cooling when you are away from home or asleep. This eliminates wasteful energy consumption without having to upgrade your HVAC system. On average, they save households $180 per year. Many models even include indicators for replacing your air filter or HVAC problems, which improves the efficiency of your HVAC system. Additionally, consider setting your thermostat to 78F in the summer and 68F in the winter. For every degree extra of heating or cooling, you’re increasing your energy usage by 6-8%. Note, setting your thermostat to a lower temperature than normal does not cool your home faster.
  5. Upgrade to an ENERGY STAR appliance. If you need to replace a household appliance, consider upgrading to an ENERGY STAR certified one. Appliances, on average, account for approximately 13% of a household’s energy use. Energy-efficient appliances usually have a higher upfront purchase cost, but their operating costs tend to be 9-25% lower than conventional models. ENERGY STAR labels are a guarantee that the appliance consumes less energy than standard models.
  6. Get an HVAC tune-up. Annual heating and cooling system check-ups keep your system at peak performance and can prevent future problems. The average homeowner spends about $875 a year on heating and cooling costs. Some money-saving measures include using a programmable thermostat, cleaning the area around your HVAC system’s outdoor components, and regularly changing your air filters. Additionally, have your HVAC professional check your ducts for leaks too.
  7. Receive an energy audit. Using specialized tools and skills to evaluate your home, energy auditors and raters recommend the most cost-effective measures to improve its efficiency and comfort. They can also recommend the best sequence for implementing measures to help you take advantage of interactions.
  8. Participate in the Dominion Energy Marketplace. Dominion Energy customers can purchase energy-efficient products at a discounted price through the company’s online marketplace. Products include an array of LED bulbs, smart power strips, and outdoor motion/sensing lights. Orders over $35 ship free.
  9. Switch to LED light bulbs. LED light bulbs use anywhere from 25-80% less electricity than traditional incandescent bulbs, and they last between 3-25 times longer.
  10. Seal cracks, gaps, and leaks. Weatherizing your home by sealing air leaks is a low-cost, effective way to reduce your home’s heating and cooling costs. Vents, windows, and doors are the most common sources of leaks. Apply caulk or spray foam to seal air leaks between stationary objects. Weather striping can be used for cracks between moving objects, such as doors and windows. These low-cost measures typically offer a return on investment in less than one year.
  11. Upgrade or replace windows. Old, inefficient windows can add up to 10-25% of your total heating bill. Replacing single-glazed windows with energy-efficient models can result in noticeable cost savings. An alternative option is to add interior or exterior storm windows, which can reduce heat loss by 10-20%. If you are already planning on replacing your home’s windows, the typical additional cost of ENERGY STAR-rated replacement windows is modest and can be cost-effective while also boosting your home’s comfort. Depending on your location, ENERGY STAR windows can save anywhere from $20-95 a year on your energy bills.
  12. Insulate your electric hot water heater and hot water lines. Insulating your water heater and hot water lines helps keep the heated water from cooling off as quickly between uses. On average, households spend over $250 a year on water heating. You can also save money by lowering your water heater’s temperature setting.
  13. Wash clothes in cold water, when possible. Using cold water uses less energy because you don’t have to heat the water. About 90% of the energy used to operate a clothes washer is from water heating. To save even more, wash full loads or use lower water settings for smaller loads. Additionally, longer spin times in the washing machine reduces the amount of drying time needed in the dryer.
  14. Use clothes dryers efficiently (if used at all). Dryers account for 6% of residential electricity consumption. Luckily, there are several easy-to-implement tips to make your dryer more efficient. Don’t overstuff the dryer, which causes it to run longer. Lower heat settings use less energy. Use the moisture sensor option, if available, which helps avoid over-drying clothes. Clean the lint trap after every use to improve air circulation to increase the dryer’s efficiency. Use your washing machine’s highest spin time to reduce the amount of drying time needed.
  15. Clean or replace filters regularly. It’s recommended that you check your HVAC system’s air filters monthly, especially during times of heavy use. If it looks dirty, change it. At a minimum, HVAC filters should be changed every three months. Dirty filters make your system work harder by slowing down airflow. For an even greener option with a bigger payback, check to see if your system accommodates a washable filter.
  16. Plant shade trees around your home. Good landscaping can save energy, especially if you live in an older home with relatively poor insulation and windows. Planting deciduous trees on the western side of your home block solar radiation in the summer and lets the radiation through in the winter.
  17. Insulate your HVAC ducts. Most HVAC systems consist of a network of ducts that distribute the warmed or cooled air to different parts of your home. If they are not properly insulated or sealed, the resulting energy waste could be adding hundreds of dollars to your annual heating and cooling bills.
  18. Avoid running appliances during peak hours. Consider using your dishwasher and clothes washer/dryer later in the evening. Not only will this help keep your house cooler during summer months, avoiding peak usage hours (4:00-6:00 pm) will save on your utility bill.
  19. Watch your appliance placement. Placing heat-generating appliances, such as TVs, computers, or lamps, near a thermostat can make your HVAC unit run more than it needs to.
  20. Close the fireplace damper when not in use. Opened dampers allow warmed or cooled air to easily escape from the house. Closing the damper will help keep your conditioned air in the living space. For an even more efficient option, consider a chimney plug or fireplace balloon.
  21. Use your ceiling fan. A ceiling fan can allow you to raise your thermostat setting about 4F while still remaining comfortable. Just remember to turn the fan off when you leave the room; fans cool people, not the room. In the winter, you can reverse your fan to produce a gentle updraft, which drives the warm air near the ceiling down into the living space.
  22. Cook efficiently. If you’re using your stove, avoid wasting energy by covering pots and pans. Trapping the heat also reduces cooking times. In fact, covering your pot when using an electric cooktop can reduce your carbon footprint by roughly 85 lbs of CO2 per year. You should also match your pot size to your burner size. When using the oven, resist the urge to open the door to check on your food, which allows the heat to escape. Every time you open that door, the temperature can drop 25F. Use your oven light and look through the door’s window instead. Finally, use the microwave for cooking. Using the microwave can reduce your cooking energy by as much as 80%. Additionally, by generating less heat than an oven or stovetop, you also save on AC costs.
  23. Defrost refrigerators and freezers. Ice build-up over ¼ inch thick can reduce your appliance’s efficiency. Additionally, fridges and freezers operate most efficiently when they’re full, so keep them as full as possible (without overfilling them). To avoid excessive cooling and wasting energy, you should also make sure to set your refrigerator temperature to the manufacturer’s recommendation.
  24. Turn off lights when not in use. Approximately 12% of a typical household utility bill is from lighting. During the day, open curtains and blinds to rely more on natural light than lamps.
  25. Unplug electronics when not in use. As mentioned above, many electronics produce “phantom loads”, or electricity used by electronics when they are either in standby mode or are turned off. This wasted energy can cost you up to $200 per year. Only turn on your computer, monitor, printer, etc. when you need them. And while you’re at it, don’t leave your cell phone plugged in overnight; it only takes 1-2 hours to charge.

*VAEEC is partnering with Viridiant to offer the Energy Awareness Bingo Grand Prize! Announced at the Fall Forum on November 10th, the raffle winner will receive a virtual Home Energy Audit from Viridiant. Conducted via video-chat, Viridiant’s 1-hour audit with a building science expert will provide a whole-house inspection, utility bill analysis, and a prioritized list of improvements affecting energy costs, health, and comfort for your home. Viridiant is a non-profit advancing sustainable, affordable and energy-efficient construction through education and technical support. Learn more about their work and mission at viridiant.org.

No purchase necessary. Promotion begins on October 1st. Entries must be received by October 31st. One (1) winner will receive the following prize: One (1) Virtual Home Energy Audit. Winner will be announced on November 10th during the VAEEC’s virtual Fall Forum. Odds of winning depend on number of entries received. Promotion open only to U.S. citizens, or lawful permanent U.S. residents who live within Virginia and are 18 or older. Prize must be redeemed within 6 months of notice to winner. Sponsor: Viridiant, 1431 East Main Street, Richmond, Virginia 23220.

Dominion DSM Stakeholder Group Updates

Dominion’s Energy Efficiency Stakeholder Group met virtually on August 27th. They discussed a number of updates, as well as brainstormed ideas for long-term planning. 

The Virginia Clean Economy Act included some changes to the stakeholder process, so two new subgroups were created, focusing on Policy and EM&V. Those groups will meet in the coming weeks. 

Additionally, Dominion provided an update on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their DSM programs as well as an update on the improved eligibility definition for low-income programs, which we worked to change earlier this year. While the marketplace has been open the entire time, all in-person programs were suspended last spring. Dominion resumed their Non-Residential programs on May 15th and resumed all of their single-family, residential programs in June. Recently, they allowed multi-family projects to resume in their low-income programs. All low-income program providers are following federal weatherization COVID guidelines. 

Following the SCC’s recent approval of all of Dominion’s Phase VIII DSM programs, the Dominion DSM team and their implementation vendors are working on preparation as they prepare to launch them in January 2021.

Dominion also provided an update on their next filing for Phase IX, which will be submitted to the SCC in December. The company received 53 program proposals from ten vendors in response to their most recent RFP. The program categories were: Non-Residential, Residential, Low-Income, Cross Program services (e.g. marketing, call center, rebate fulfillment, etc.) and “open” programs with this last category being used as a starting point for next year’s RFP.

Dominion’s EM&V vendor, DNV GL, gave a presentation on their annual EM&V report, which was filed back in May. The residential marketplace made up 51% of the energy savings from DSM programs in 2019. Through the marketplace program, 3.5 million light bulbs were purchased either online or at a retail store. The Non-Residential lighting program made up 30% of the energy savings in 2019 and the Non-Residential small business program made up 11%. All other programs each made up one percent or less of the total savings accrued in 2019. There was also a brief discussion about the upcoming EM&V proceeding before the SCC, which will take place next May. The VAEEC will be participating as a respondent in this case and has already begun working with our lawyers with the UVA Environmental and Regulatory Law Clinic in preparation.

The group concluded the day with a discussion on long-term planning. The company has hired the Cadmus Group to assist with this planning, which will help meet their mandated energy savings targets, which became law earlier this year. If you are already a member of the stakeholder group, and would like to participate in this planning process, be sure to add yourself to the long-term planning subgroup in Trello.

If you would like to participate in the Stakeholder meetings or would like to view materials, please email the meeting facilitator, Ted Knicker at ted.knicker@ipa-llc.org to learn more.

SCC Approves All Dominion DSM Programs for Second Consecutive Year

Yesterday, the SCC approved ALL of Dominion’s Demand Side Management (DSM) programs in their phase VIII filing and the updated programs in their VII filing. All programs- except the Low Income (LI) heating and cooling program- were approved for five years from January 2021-December 2025. The LI heating and cooling program was approved for three years, as stated by law, and will run from January 2021-December 2023. The updated phase VII programs can begin immediately and will end in December 2024 along with the remaining VII programs.

As a formal respondent in the proceedings, the Virginia Energy Efficiency Council (VAEEC) is incredibly excited with the progress shown in this final order. The Commission has also expressly agreed with the VAEEC that the creation of a standardized dashboard for evaluation, measurement, and verification (EM&V) reporting is necessary to determine the true effectiveness of these energy efficiency programs. 

The Commission also agreed that the proposed mid-stream program should not split the incentives between the homeowners and the builders. This is a great example of how our involvement in this process is crucial. The company had agreed to the 50% split incentive in their rebuttal testimony and the Hearing Examiner recommended it to the Commission. However, the Commissioners were clearly swayed by our arguments that a split incentive did not enhance energy efficiency gains in this instance.

We’re also pleased to note that Dominion has expressed its willingness to continue working on standardizing the process for qualifying low-income projects and post-construction reporting requirements. The updated eligibility criteria that Dominion agreed to earlier this week are part of this work, though there are standardization needs that still need to be addressed.  

 

A full list of the programs can be found here

Low-Income Eligibility Definition

We are excited to announce that this week, on a call with VAEEC members and staff, Dominion Energy committed to using a definition of low income eligibility requirements that weatherization providers and VAEEC have suggested for some time. That new definition is:
A household whose annual income does not exceed 80% of the local area median income as set forth by Virginia Housing Development Authority or 60% of the state median income as determined by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, whichever is greater.
This change, which Appalachian Power Company is already planning to implement, will allow weatherization providers to serve more households across Virginia. Chase Counts with Community Housing Partners stated, “This is not only a big win for vulnerable Virginian households but is also an example of Virginia’s leadership in energy equity issues.”

Dominion Energy’s DSM programs filing update

On June 16, 2020, the hearing examiner in the Dominion Energy DSM Proceeding (PUR-2019-00201) released his recommendations to the Commission. Overall, the report was positive, recommending that all of the programs be approved- some with modifications- at the budget requested by the company. 

While the VAEEC is pleased overall with the recommendations, we are drafting comments as respondents in the case to address two outstanding issues:

  1. For the New Home Construction program, the hearing examiner recommends splitting the incentive between the homebuilder and the homebuyer 50/50. As we argued in our post-hearing brief, the lead actor for creating market transformation in this type of mid-stream program is the homebuilder, “who is making the design and equipment decisions necessary to achieve ENERGY STAR certification, [which] leads to more energy-efficient homes being put on the market for sale.
  2. The hearing examiner stated that the VAEEC’s request to require that all future DSM applications include energy savings data and tracking metrics towards the goal in the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) was unnecessary. Instead, it was suggested that this and all other futuristic recommendations should be further explored and developed by the stakeholder group. While we do agree with this conclusion for some of our other recommendations (e.g. geo-targeting and using AMI to enhance programming options), we feel the Commission should require inclusion of key data- as related to the mandates in the VCEA- in all future filings. Without these metrics, how can the Commission and the public understand whether or not the company is making progress towards its goals?

We hope the Commission will consider these arguments as they deliberate on their decision.

One final thing to note is the section of the hearing examiner’s report on EM&V. Throughout the proceeding, the SCC staff expressed a lack of confidence in the company’s EM&V analysis. In the company’s rebuttal testimony, Mimi Goldberg with DNV GL invited Staff to meet with them in order to walk through their process and to “improve the rigor of EM&V.” During their opening statements at the virtual hearing on April 29th, the SCC staff attorney took offense to this suggestion, which they reaffirmed in their post-hearing brief, stating, “such collaboration between [Dominion Energy] and Staff would compromise Staff’s ability to critically review future DSM filings.”

In his report, the hearing examiner not only dismissed this notion of impropriety, but made the recommendation for the Commission to direct Staff to engage with the company on these issues. The recommendation also goes on to reaffirm SCC staff’s engagement in the stakeholder processes, which to date has been greatly limited.

From the hearing examiner’s report:

“Moreover, Staff working with the Company to develop more rigorous and accurate EM&V data is consistent with the requirements of § 56-596.2 C of the Code as revised by the VCEA. This Code provision directs the Company to use a stakeholder process “to provide input and feedback on . . . (iv) best practices for [EM&V] for purposes of assessing compliance with the total annual energy savings . . . .” This Code provision further provides: “[s]uch stakeholder process shall include the participation of representatives from each utility, relevant directors, deputy directors, and staff members of the Commission who participate in approval and oversight of utility efficiency programs, . . . .” I recognize that Staff working with the Company to develop more rigorous and accurate EM&V data may go beyond the requirements of the stakeholder process set forth in § 56-596.2 C. However, Staff participating in the stakeholder process addressing EM&V, but declining to otherwise work with the Company on EM&V issues, would undermine the policy directive of the General Assembly for EM&V practices to be developed in a collaborative process. Therefore, I find the Commission should direct Staff to work with the Company and others to develop more rigorous and accurate EM&V data.”

So, what are the next steps? We wait for the SCC to issue their Final Order in the case, which should happen within the next several weeks. Regardless, Dominion’s plan is to launch the approved programs in early 2021. The next virtual stakeholder meeting is anticipated to be held sometime in August.

Spring 2020 Forum: An Interactive, Virtual Experience

Social distancing did not stop Virginia’s energy efficiency industry from coming together to learn and connect at our first-ever virtual Spring Forum. Over 100 energy efficiency professionals participated in the event, which included three educational sessions, our annual member meeting with Board elections, the fifth annual Virginia Energy Efficiency Leadership Awards, and a virtual networking break. Attendees were treated to topics such as the 2020 legislation, energy data, high-performance buildings, technology, and more. We want to extend a huge thank you to our sponsors for their support and to everyone who attended.

The event started off with the “2020 Legislation” session. Led by VAEEC’s Chelsea Harnish, Sen. Jennifer McClellan, and Del. Rip Sullivan discussed the monumental energy efficiency laws that passed the General Assembly earlier this year, including the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA). The VCEA mandates 5% energy savings from the investor-owned utilities by 2025, marking Virginia as just the second state in the Southeast to establish a mandatory stand-alone Energy Efficiency Resource Standard (EERS). Additional items discussed included the On-Bill Tariff and the Solar Freedom bills, as well as the election of a new State Corporation Commissioner.

Next, “Virginia’s Energy Efficiency Potential” provided organizational updates and accomplishments, along with the incredible momentum VAEEC and the industry as a whole is gaining. Many of the organizational highlights can be found in our 2019 annual report. Also during this session, Board Vice Chair John Morrill (Arlington County Government) led our 2020 Board of Directors election. VAEEC members re-elected Goerge Barnes (Trane)and elected two new Board members: Maggie Kelley (Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance) and Leigh Anne Ratliff (CPower Energy Management). We are excited to add these new voices to our leadership.

Board Chair David Koogler (Rappahannock Electric Cooperative) recognized winners of the fifth annual Virginia Energy Efficiency Leadership Awards. Henrico County was recognized for its LEED Certified buildings, and the University of Virginia (UVA) was recognized for its Delta Force Program. Since 2011, Henrico County has built or renovated 16 government buildings and schools to LEED certification standards. The County is currently pursuing certification of LEED Silver or higher on six current projects. These efforts have reduced energy use by approximately 30 percent and are overseen by Carrie Webster, Energy Manager with Henrico County.

UVA’s Delta Force Program achieves energy efficiency and savings across the university’s nearly 18 million square feet of building space. Since 2009, UVA has invested $17.4 million in energy projects, for a savings of $28.7 million in avoided energy costs and 180,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions. The program is overseen by Jesse Warren, sustainability program manager for buildings and operations in the Division of Facilities Management. Congratulations, Henrico County and UVA’s Delta Force Program! Keep up the inspirational work.

During this portion of the event, David Steiner (D+R International) was also recognized for his service to the VAEEC. David joined the VAEEC Board of Directors as a founding member in 2012 and has now stepped into a new role as Director Emeritus. Thank you, David, for your tireless support of the organization.

VAEEC’s annual forums are known for their ability to bring together Virginia’s energy efficiency leaders to make valuable connections. Even though this year’s event occurred virtually, VAEEC wanted to make sure this opportunity was still available. The next session, “Virtual Networking”, went off without a hitch. Participants joined breakout rooms based on different topics: 2020 Legislation, Weatherization Programs, COVID-19 Predictions & Responses, and Innovation & Technology. Lively conversations ensued, and beneficial connections were made. Thank you Community Housing Partners for sponsoring this session.

“Leveraging Energy Data from Start to Finish”, moderated by John Morrill (Arlington County Government), followed. Brandi Frazier Bestpitch introduced the Virginia Dept. of Mines, Minerals and Energy’s new Energy Data Warehouse. Tim Bernadowski Siemens Industry) covered building automation, including the types of data you can collect and how to utilize those data to meet your needs. Scott Dicke (Sustainable Real Estate Solutions (SRS)) discussed how data collection can lead to project origination while rolling out SRS’s new EPIC tool. The group also discussed project opportunities during a global pandemic.

The last session of the day, “Achieving High-Performance Buildings”, focused on EarthCraft and LEED certifications for commercial buildings. Liz Beardsley (US Green Building Council, VAEEC Board) moderated the session and provided an overview of what defines a high-performance building. Matt Waring (Viridiant) and Bryna Dunn (Moseley Architects) covered the differences between EarthCraft and LEED and the best practices for achieving these above-code credentials.

As with all of our work, the VAEEC Spring Forum would not be possible without the continuing support of our remarkable members and sponsors. To everyone who participated in this year’s Spring Forum, thank you for helping us push energy efficiency in Virginia toward an even brighter future.

Presentations can be viewed here:
2020 Legislation
Virginia’s Energy Efficiency Potential
Leveraging Energy Data Tracking from Start to Finish
Achieving High-Performance Buildings

An audio recording of each presentation has been provided to all participants.

The Case for C-PACE in the Lending Community

C-PACE finances EE improves for commercial and multifamily buildings

By now, many people in this industry have at least heard of Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy, or C-PACE. Across the Mid-Atlantic region, VAEEC and other stakeholders, including the Mid-Atlantic PACE Alliance, or MAPA, have been working diligently to accelerate the implementation of C-PACE programs and projects. Through this work, over $50 million of C-PACE projects have been financed across the region since January 2017.

C-PACE is a voluntary special assessment that is added to a property’s real estate tax bill. It provides building owners with a means to finance energy efficiency, water conservation, renewable energy, stormwater management, and resiliency projects for new and existing commercial, industrial, multifamily (with five+ dwellings), and nonprofit properties. 

C-PACE is more advantageous than traditional financing by providing 100% financing, no upfront cash investment, and immediate savings. In fact, many projects are cash-flow positive from day one

Benefits of C-PACE

  • Increased building value
  • Reduced utility bills
  • More comfortable space with improved air quality
  • 100% financing: no upfront cash investment required
  • Long-term loans up to 25+ years: lower annual payments, positive cash flow
  • Repaid as a Special Assessment on the Real Estate Tax Bill
  • Transferable: the loan stays with the property upon sale
  • Non-accelerating
  • Can fill a gap in the capital stack
  • Contributes to economic development, local job creations, and improved public health

How C-PACE differs from traditional financing options

 Traditional Construction LoanC-PACE Assessment
PurposeHVAC and LightingHVAC and Lighting
Project Cost$100,000$100,000
Loan$75,000
25% upfront cash investment required
$100,000
0% upfront investment required
Interest Rate5%6.25%
Term5 years, fully amortizing15 years, fully amortizing
Monthly Payment$1,415$857
Annual Payment$16,984$10,290

What role does the lending community play?

Funding for C-PACE projects comes from private capital providers, including local, regional, and national banks and investors. Capital providers or lenders approve the financing eligibility and underwriting for the project. They even have the ability to act as the project originator and can assist the owner with obtaining mortgage holder consent. 

How does C-PACE benefit the lending community? 

  • This fairly new financing mechanism provides lenders and capital providers with new funding opportunities. 
  • C-PACE provides a good fixed rate of return without the property owner needing to refinance or incur additional transaction costs. 
  • The ability to transfer the C-PACE assessment to a new owner upon sale provides the current owner with an incentive to make building improvements now.

How are mortgage lenders involved?

Since C-PACE is secured by a special assessment, a corresponding lien is placed on the property. This is similar to how localities fund public infrastructure projects, such as sewers. The assessment is senior to all commercial liens, including mortgages. Therefore, property owners must obtain consent from their mortgage lender before the project can be approved. 

To date, over 200 mortgage lenders across the nation have consented to C-PACE assessments for a variety of reasons. In partnership with MAPA, VAEEC has put together a directory of mortgage lenders who have consented to C-PACE in the Mid-Atlantic region. If you are looking to utilize C-PACE financing, you can check this directory to see if your mortgage lender is on the list.

Don’t see your mortgage lender listed? MAPA has put together a guide highlighting the top six reasons a mortgage lender would consent to a C-PACE assessment. The Case for Lender Consent: A C-PACE guide for mortgage lenders & property owners is an excellent way to engage your property’s senior lender(s) to assess their receptiveness to C-PACE early on in the project.

Stay tuned to learn more! MAPA will be holding a webinar, Financing C-PACE with Regional and Local Lending Partners, in the near future. 

2020 Legislation: Paving the Way for a Clean Energy Future

The 2020 General Assembly session marked a monumental shift in energy policy in the state, with multiple bills successfully pushing towards a cleaner, carbon free Virginia. Below, we highlight five bills that advance energy efficiency opportunities in the Commonwealth.

The most notable piece of clean energy legislation that passed the General Assembly this year is the sweeping Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA), carried by Delegate Rip Sullivan and Senator Jennifer McClellan. This landmark law will pave the way for a carbon-free Virginia by 2045, ensuring investments in energy efficiency, solar, wind, and more. The VCEA mandates 5% energy savings from the investor-owned utilities by 2025, with the State Corporation Commission (SCC) determining future savings in three-year blocks, marking Virginia as just the second state in the Southeast to establish a mandatory stand-alone Energy Efficiency Resource Standard (EERS). 

Based on our own analysis, the goals set forth in the VCEA are achievable. As part of our pre-filed testimony in support of Dominion’s Demand Side Management (DSM) Filing, we looked at Dominion’s current energy efficiency programs and their proposed programs to find a baseline for existing energy savings. We determined that, even using conservative estimates as only three years of data were available, Dominion would exceed the 2022 target of 1.25%. Additional analysis by ACEEE indicates that these targets translate to an average of 1.3% savings per year, which would put Virginia in the top 15 states nationwide in terms of utility savings targets.

Additionally, the VCEA removes the automatic opt out for industrial customers above 500kW, which was instituted as part of the Grid Transformation and Security Act of 2018. Instead, it creates a verified, self-direct program which allows industrial customers above 1MW to opt out only after providing measured and verified savings data to the SCC from their own energy efficiency programs. VAEEC and many member organizations participate in an energy efficiency stakeholder group, which will leverage our ability to identify and maximize the programs that will best meet these customers’ needs. Programs geared towards these large industrial users will go even further towards the savings goals in the VCEA. 

The Virginia General Assembly also passed legislation to allow Virginia to join the northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Inventory (RGGI) as the first southern state to do so. The legislation allocates 50% of the money from the carbon trading regime to the Department of Housing and Community Development for low-income energy efficiency programs, including public housing upgrades and new construction incentives.

Thanks to legislation carried by Senator David Marsden, electric cooperative members will soon have the opportunity to afford energy efficiency upgrades to their homes via an on-bill tariff. The Pay-As-You-Save (PAYS) model has successfully been implemented in other electric coop territories nationwide and Rappahannock Electric Cooperative in Virginia hopes to be the first Virginia coop to offer it in the near future. 

Other notable legislation that passed included two bills by Senator Scott Surovell. One bill now requires the Virginia Residential Disclosure Act to include an energy audit as an option for homeowners and buyers during the home buying process. The other legislation will require each state agency to designate an energy manager and begin tracking energy and water consumption at 100% of state-owned buildings by 2025. Public buildings are largely ineligible for energy efficiency programs and funds, so establishing a baseline for their energy use is critical to future savings. 

The General Assembly also has the opportunity in the next few years to elect two new commissioners to the SCC, which presents greater opportunities for the expansion of clean energy- including energy efficiency- in Virginia.

The actions taken by the 2020 General Assembly will catapult Virginia into the top half of states in the country on the ACEEE scorecard. It will be up to the energy efficiency industry to ensure that savings from these programs are realized in order to continue climbing in the rankings. The VAEEC and our members will continue to monitor and take part in implementation efforts to ensure that Virginia maintains our new standing as an energy efficiency leader in the southeast.

Friday Funny: Energy Q&A with Kids

Families everywhere are navigating the unique challenges of working, schooling, and just living at home. While energy use isn’t at the top of many people’s minds during a pandemic, all of the computers, streaming, hot showers and extra dishes add up to higher bills. Hear from VAEEC Office Manager Rebecca Hui and her daughters, “K” (age 10) and “A” (age 6), about energy use in the time of coronavirus. 

Rebecca: We’re all working in the same room most of the day. What is something we can each do to use less electricity while we’re at home? 

K (10): When we’re in one area of the house, so say we’re in the front section, we can keep the lights on in here, but in the back, we should turn the lights off. Except maybe in the kitchen.

A (6): Yeah because we frequently go in the kitchen for snacks. And maybe not using all of the computers all at one time. 

K (10): We should turn off the computers when we’re finished, and if they’re fully charged, don’t keep them plugged in. 

 

Rebecca: What do you think energy efficiency means? 

A (6): To save energy and be efficient. 

K (10): So, like, it’s using less energy to get the same thing as when you use more energy. Right? 

 

Rebecca: Why do you think it’s important to use less energy? 

K (10): If we use less energy, it helps the environment because some forms of energy you use like oil is not great for the Earth and also we’re wasting it. 

A (6): So then we can save up energy for when we actually need it. Then our lightbulbs won’t run out because we will need them the next day. 

 

Rebecca: How would you tell your friends to save energy? 

K (10): Turn off the light when you leave a room.

A (6): I have a way. Turn off lights, and when you’re done with your computers, shut them down and turn them off. 

 

Rebecca: What about other grown ups? What can they do? 

A (6): When you’re done with your work, when you’re not using something, unplug it and put it away. 

K (10): For a lot of grown-ups, turn off your computers. Oooh! And buy LED light bulbs and a smart thermostat.

 

Rebecca: What is your favorite thing to do that doesn’t use a computer or TV? 

A (6): I know! Reading a paper book. My other idea is drawing. I also like to observe flowers and ride my bike. 

K (10): I like sewing and crocheting. Outside, I like roller skating.

 

Rebecca: What is one thing I always say to you? 

A (6): Close the door. 

K (10): Turn off the lights upstairs!

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