Energy efficiency is dull & solar power is a tough sell, but maybe they’ll do better combined 

Monitor staff
Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Like you, I hate spending money on electricity or gas or any other form of energy, but like you, I don’t do a whole lot to actually cut my spending, aside from complain.

Such inertia is no surprise to Charles Forcey of Durham, who has long experience with municipal and regional energy programs.

“We run ‘button-up’ seminars,” Forcey said, describing public events telling people about ways to improve energy efficiency. “They produce interest, maybe 100 people show up, but not much result. Maybe three projects come out of them.”

A similar shortage of follow-through comes after workshops about solar power.

“There’s a motivational gap,” he lamented. “We couldn’t get people from the event to actually doing it.”

Which leads us to Energize 360, an attempt by the energy committees in a dozen Seacoast towns to prod residents into buying less energy, either by needing to use less in the first place or by generating some of their own.

The program was born out of shared frustration among energy committees. Forcey coordinates Seacoast Regional Area Hub, a gathering of such energy committees, which started brainstorming last summer.

“We had done a lot of work in lowering municipal power bills ... and were looking for a strategy to reach residents,” he said. The result is Energize 360, which is in the midst of a five-town push that expands the effort to 12 towns throughout the Seacoast.

When I first heard of Energize 360, I figured it was another public education or group-purchasing program, but it seems to be more than that. Notably, rather than encouraging just solar power or just energy efficiency they’re doing both at once, having signed up a solar installer – ReVision Energy – and energy auditing/insulation company – Yankee Thermal of Rochester.

Energize 360 offers free home visits to help decide what, if anything, you should be doing, and provides lower prices on products due to the group buying. It has other interesting aspects, notably its “social fund” designed to spread the eco-wealth.

“For every solar array installed and every energy efficiency work contracted, a certain amount of either air-sealing labor time or solar-panel installation goes into a fund for that town,” Forcey said .

When the Energize 360 program is finished – contracts must be signed by Aug. 31 at the latest – participants will vote on where to apply this free energy work, perhaps low-income housing in town or the local fire station or a nonprofit office.

“The idea is to get a community benefit from some of this activity,” Forcey said.

Energize 360 is also part of what we might be considered a New Hampshire energy-saving A/B Test, the techy term for launching similar programs at once and comparing the results before moving on. They’re watching Solarize Upper Valley, a multi-town energy effort around Hanover that concerns itself only with solar power, to see if Energize 360’s mix of solar and efficiency is worth the effort.

“After August we’re going to pause, crunch the numbers, watch Upper Valley – then we’ll decide whether to launch again in January,” Forcey said.

“It’s possible we will bring people in, but it’s still not sexy, and they still won’t spend $1,000 to fix the gaping hole in their attic,” he said.

Energize 360 is run by volunteers, fueled by a mix of tree-hugging environmentalism, concern about climate change, design to cut power bills and love of cool technology. (Mini-split heat pumps! Electricity storage! Smart grids!) Its only funding is a leftover bit of a $2,400 donation from the Grassroots Fund, “applied to basically pay for coffee and doughnuts for meetings, initial breakfasts.”

Whether it succeeds in making a real dent in the amount of electricity being consumed in those 12 towns remains to be seen. If nothing else, however, it hopes to move beyond the cloud of nagging earnestness that covers almost anything with the word “green” in its title.

“We didn’t want to sound like an ‘eat your vegetable’ kind of message from the Spinach Council,” Forcey said.

To learn more, check the website, energize360.org.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)