United Community Action Partnership

Seed grant project reduces energy burden for 54 Minnesota families

August 2021

Partnerships bring

United CAP brought together in-home education and energy upgrades to help families reduce their energy costs...and improve the health and comfort of their homes. 

CERTs seed grants and utility partnerships helped fuel this project in six counties in West Central and Southwest Minnesota.

Many clients want to be able to be more self-sufficient but need a helping hand. By conserving energy, we are able to stretch budgets.

Jeff Gladis, Housing Director, United Community Action Partnership

Putting the pieces together on energy burden

For many Minnesota households, energy costs can eat up a big part of the family budget. Reducing this energy burden requires an approach that brings together several different pieces: energy efficiency upgrades to the home, habit changes to conserve energy, and, in some cases, financial assistance. As Jeff Gladis, Housing Director at United Community Action Partnership, explained, “Many clients want to be able to be more self-sufficient but need a helping hand. By conserving energy, we are able to stretch budgets.”

Putting the pieces together for households also requires putting together program and funding pieces. United CAP, like other Community Action agencies, delivers energy programming from a variety of funding sources, each of which has its own requirements. This In-Home Education and Energy Saving Project put together funding from two CERTs seed grants (West Central and Southwest regions), the Weatherization Assistance Program, the Energy Assistance Program, and local utilities, to deliver a multifaceted energy efficiency and conservation program to 54 households.

For this project, UCAP identified households based on their eligibility for the Energy Assistance Program. Participating households received home energy counseling and education, appliance replacements, and other energy saving services for their homes.

First step: a home energy consultation

UCAP staff met with each household to provide energy counseling and education. This usually took place in the home, though some consultations took place virtually, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The goal was to provide one-on-one education to improve the client’s understanding of how they can lower their energy bills through conservation.

During in-home consultations, UCAP staff started with a short survey to gauge clients’ existing knowledge around energy savings. Staff then worked alongside household members for a hands-on learning experience, installing energy efficient items like LED lightbulbs and pipe wrap, as well as demonstrating how to turn down water heater temperature and how to change furnace filters. One of the benefits of having a trained energy auditor on site was that it allowed the household members to get accurate answers to their energy questions. UCAP staff and household members also went through an energy guide together, and the guide was left behind for future reference.

Next target: old, inefficient appliances

UCAP staff tested appliances for energy efficiency and recorded manufacturer information to determine the age of the appliance. Staff then worked with local utilities to replace worn out, eligible appliances with Energy Star appliances. As part of the Conservation Improvement Program (CIP), Minnesota’s electric and natural gas utilities help households and businesses use energy more efficiently, with many economic and environmental benefits. For this program, UCAP partnered with nine different utilities to replace inefficient home appliances, contracting with local businesses to install the new appliances and recycle the old ones.

There is the benefit to local businesses that provide the replacement appliances and to local contractors and material suppliers that provide services through weatherization.

Jeff Gladis, Housing Director, United Community Action Partnership

Taking the whole-house approach with weatherization

Finally, 19 of the homes in the project qualified for weatherization, which looks at the energy efficiency of the home as a whole. Measures like air sealing and insulation provide major efficiency benefits. The Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program funded some of the weatherization in this project, while partnering with Otter Tail Power (through their House Therapy Program) allowed UCAP to weatherize an additional pair of 6-plexes in Lincoln County.

According to Gladis, the In-Home Education and Energy Savings Project “provided the opportunity to use low-income CIP dollars in the households that we met with. Extra energy savings were realized because of being able to use weatherization dollars to complete more extensive work.”

This was an excellent way to meet with households and teach them about energy savings…. We intend to continue to use the same process that we used for future outreach opportunities.

Jeff Gladis, Housing Director, United Community Action Partnership

Bonus! Project spurs Air Source Heat Pump pilot

In fall of 2021, with funding provided by Otter Tail Power, the pair of 6-plexes weatherized in Lincoln County will have Air Source Heat Pumps installed to serve as the primary source of heat and cooling for the units. ASHPs are up to three times as efficient as the existing electric baseboard heat.

Project Snapshot

Clean Energy Focus: Energy efficiency, appliance upgrades, and weatherization for low to moderate income households

Southwest CERT Seed Grant: $8,750

West Central CERT Seed Grant: $5,000

Total Project Cost: $211,256

Other Funds: Federal weatherization and energy assistance funds administered by the state, Utility Conservation Improvement Programs

Project Team: Allen Smith, Spenser Christensen, Jeff Buesing, Dave Jones, Gloria Robles, Pat Elizondo, and Jeff Gladis with UCAP; staff with partnering utilities: Hutchinson Utilities, Kandiyohi Power, McLeod Co-op, Renville Sibley Co-op, City of Tyler, Federated Rural Electric Coop, Lyon Lincoln Electric Coop, Marshall Municipal Utilities, Ottertail Power Company

People Involved and Reached: 244

Annual Energy Savings: 79,337 kWh and 2,858 therms

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