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Michigan program to help guide Energy Department efficiency effort

Shina and Charles Steinberg upgraded their DeWitt Township, Michigan home with help from the BetterBuildings program. (Photo via BetterBuildings for Michigan)

Shina and Charles Steinberg upgraded their DeWitt Township, Michigan home with help from the BetterBuildings program. (Photo via BetterBuildings for Michigan)

(Correction appended)

As the U.S. Department of Energy seeks to advance energy efficiency, it’s looking to Michigan for guidance.

Earlier this year, Michigan Saves became an inaugural member of the new national Better Buildings Residential Network, an Energy Department program that connects energy-efficiency programs and partners. This connection allows them to share best practices and learn from each other to make more American homes energy-efficient.

Michigan Saves is a nonprofit based in Lansing that makes affordable financing and other incentives available through partnerships and grants with lenders in the private sector. The organization has no employees but is staffed by contract with Public Sector Consultants and the Delta Institute.

Julie Metty Bennett, a senior vice president with Public Sector Consultants, said of the new network, “We see it as an opportunity to learn from others who are committed to impacting the energy-efficiency movement throughout the United States.”

The new Better Buildings Residential Network expands on current energy-efficiency programs by involving nonprofits, businesses, state and local governments, utilities and others to accelerate the pace of American home upgrades.

Members benefit by having access to resources and updates on trends in efficiency, and in turn provide the Energy Department with annual updates of their residential energy-efficiency upgrades.

Metty Bennett said Michigan Saves finds it valuable to share what it’s learned. She mentioned that best practices, tools and forums, including webinars and peer exchange calls, allow Michigan Saves to operate as a national consortium to discuss how to improve energy-related matters.

“Through this forum we can help others who are also committed to making the world a better, greener place,” Metty Bennett said.

The Department of Energy invited Michigan Saves to join the network, according to Metty Bennett, because of its work with a program funded by a DOE grant, BetterBuildings for Michigan.

That federally funded program performs energy-efficiency drives in specific neighborhoods in Grand Rapids, Detroit, southeast Michigan suburbs and other communities in the state. A combination of rebates and financing is part of the program that will target thousands of homes and more than 130 institutional and commercial buildings.

Danielle Byrnett, Program Director for the Better Buildings Neighborhood Program, said, “Michigan Saves has proven the ability to design an effective program, drive demand, integrate IT solutions, unlock private capital, coordinate with utilities and much more as it has realized more than 7,000 residential energy-efficiency upgrades.”

The two main reasons people want to make energy-efficiency improvements, Metty Bennett said, are to make their homes more comfortable and to stop wasting money.

“Through the BetterBuildings for Michigan program, we have tested many mechanisms such as marketing and interest rates to get the word out to people whose top priority is not spending money on energy efficiency,” Metty Bennett said. “We learned a lot about what drives people to take action with their homes.”

Michigan Saves also has a Home Energy Loan Program, which provides up to $20,000 to homeowners for energy- and renewable-energy improvements. No home appraisal or equity is required because it’s a nonprofit, and a homeowner can choose from a list of qualified improvements, such as new furnaces or windows. A homeowner also can get a home-energy assessment to find out how they can spend less money on energy at home.

Participating lenders offer an unsecured loan at a fixed annual percentage rate no higher than 7 percent. After a homeowner’s loan application is approved, an authorized contractor makes the improvements. The contractor is paid directly by the lender after the work is completed.

Michigan Saves also facilitates energy loans for businesses, which reduce costs by funding energy-efficient lighting, heating and cooling systems, refrigeration and more. Businesses make upgrades with help from the organization’s authorized contractors. Michigan Saves then offers financing of $2,000 to $150,000 through a lending partner.

“We can help others gain from our experience with creating statewide energy-efficiency financing and driving homeowners to take action in their own homes,” Metty Bennett noted.

Other inaugural members of the Better Buildings Residential Network include CNT Energy, based in Chicago; the city and county of Denver; and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

(Editor’s note: A quote by Danielle Byrnett was misattributed in an earlier version of this article.)

Christie Bleck is a freelance writer based in Marquette, Michigan.

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