Over the last several years, California has faced major wildfires – including several which destroyed thousands of homes in Sonoma and Mendocino counties in 2017. While the area may be perceived as affluent and vineyard-focused, many of the local residents affected were in fact elderly, small business owners, and everyday people. The challenges left behind for these individuals spurred community choice energy provider Sonoma Clean Power (SCP) and utility Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) to consider solutions to help their community.
In conversation with TRC, PG&E and SCP developed a joint Advanced Energy Rebuild Program that helps homeowners rebuild high-efficiency homes, apartments, and condos. The newly constructed homes are designed to be above-code, delivering strong energy and money savings – with renewable energy, electric vehicle, and low-carbon design options for greater environmental benefits.
Participating homeowners are saving on average of $650 per year on utility bills. And greenhouse gas savings from the program are equal to carbon captured by 400 acres of US forests per year. The program is also providing inspiration to the industry, receiving a Bay Area Metro Award for its innovative, collaborative effort in achieving the resilience goal of rebuilding stronger, greener homes.
For more information on the AER Program, check out a new case study report expected from the California Public Utilities Commission (CALMAC) in the next few weeks.
A unique utility-community choice partnership model
The Advanced Energy Rebuild (AER) program is the culmination of creative partnership across SCP, PG&E and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) – managed on behalf of the organizations by TRC. While each organization was deeply committed to providing wildfire support, it was their collaboration through a joint program that yielded the biggest opportunities. Pooling resources offered more to the community and presenting a single program reduced confusion for participating homeowners.
Rather than competing, each organization brought unique benefits to the partnership. SCP’s local presence best suited them for marketing and outreach as well as customer-service. PG&E has funded program administration provided by TRC, leveraging existing infrastructure from the utility’s highly successful California Advanced Home Program. And BAAQMD has contributed incremental incentives for solar and electrification measures.
Delivering an easy-to-access, effective program
With local homeowners struggling to navigate the rebuild process and put their lives back together, SCP and PG&E knew the program needed to be easily accessible. The goal was to eliminate as many barriers as possible for participants.
Homeowners receive a high-level of support through the application process and from program staff sensitive to their goals and situation. The program aims to reach homeowners early – while they are still making home design decisions and also provides up-front incentive payment. Homeowners also have flexible choices for their home design and 36 months to build their approved homes, which has spurred positive program participation.
In addition to working directly with homeowners, the program catalyzes broader industry support by educating professionals like architects, contractors, energy analysts and HERS raters on the value of high efficiency home design and new technologies.
Success and path into the future
In its first year, the program has received applications for more than 200 dwelling units, with more than half for single family homes. 66 projects have enrolled – each with an estimated 26% higher energy efficiency level than a standard home. An impressive 42% of the enrolled programs selected an all-electric design path, contributing to lower greenhouse gas emissions and 18% chose solar and energy storage for their homes.
What’s next for the program? SCP and PG&E are envisioning a deeper emphasis on strategic electrification and other creative solutions to support state decarbonization and zero net energy goals. After just a few months of program operation in Sonoma County, PG&E re–teamed with BAAQMD on a similar AER program effort that combined forces with Marin Clean Energy to help rebuild communities in Napa County. Other utilities are also considering similar programs in disaster-stricken areas of California.
While California communities address the underlying drivers behind wildfires, TRC is honored to support programs like the AER program that contribute to this effort while providing much needed assistance to our friends and neighbors, setting them up for long-term energy success.