Renewables, energy efficiency help Va. college town and its resdients save money, lower carbon pollution

Various renewable energy and energy efficiency programs have helped residents of Charlottesville, Va., save money on their electric bills and lower the city's carbon emissions. (Photo courtesy of the City of Charlottesville Department of Public Works)

Various renewable energy and energy efficiency programs have helped residents of Charlottesville, Va., save money on their electric bills and lower the city’s carbon emissions. (Photo courtesy of the City of Charlottesville Department of Public Works)

 

Making home electronics more efficient is one of the ways Charlottesville residents are cutting their electricity costs. (Photo courtesy of City of Charlottesville Department of Public Works)

Making home electronics more efficient is one of the ways Charlottesville residents are cutting their electricity costs. (Photo courtesy of City of Charlottesville Department of Public Works)

In the postcard-perfect college town of Charlottesville, Virginia, the local city council has been aggressively pursuing programs aimed at reducing carbon emissions while also saving money for local residents.

Two programs have been particularly successful – Solarize Charlottesville and an innovative, low-interest-rate financing mechanism for energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements.Solarize Charlottesville is a community-based outreach initiative that makes solar energy more accessible and more affordable for local citizens. Here’s how the program works:

By leveraging bulk purchasing power and a 30-percent federal tax credit, Solarize campaigns provide interested customer with discounted rates from independently vetted contractors. Through a competitive bidding process, a local solar installer is chosen. Next, a solar installer or energy coach conducts a home energy assessment (free or at a substantially reduced rate) to determine if the home is a good candidate for a solar array. Once the equipment is installed, electricity is generated for use on-site.

For grid-tied systems, whenever there’s a surplus, solar energy flows back on to the grid and the customer’s utility bill is credited for that amount of energy. This process is knowns as net metering.

Solarize Charlottesville is delivered by a local non-profit called the Local Energy Alliance Program (LEAP) in close partnership with the City of Charlottesville, Albemarle County, and the University of Virginia Community Credit Union.

Another initiative helping make renewable energy and energy efficiency more affordable in Charlottesville is a low-interest-rate program offered through the local credit union. If a Charlottesville resident or business is approved for a loan to make energy efficiency improvements or to add renewable energy, the loan has rates as low as zero percent interest thanks to the City’s buydown of rates in the Community Credit Union’s Powersaver Loan Program.  This buydown program was set up in 2010 with funds from the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) program.

According to LEAP’s executive director Andrew Grigsby, “…financing has been an obstacle. This loan program helps to reduce that barrier so a business…can make these investments and reap the rewards for their bottom line and for our community.”

In the past year, this program has led to home energy check-ups by LEAP’s energy coaches, efficiency improvements of every scale and scope, and increased awareness among the community of energy efficiency’s multiple benefits.

Charlottesville’s forward-looking energy initiatives are part of its 2025 vision statement to become a “Green City.” Because local residents take such pride in nearby natural resources like Shenandoah National Park and a thriving viticulture industry, the city council has pledged to continue to educate the public about its stewardship initiatives – and the multiple benefits of deploying energy efficiency and sustainability measures across all levels of the community.

–Environmental Entrepreneurs