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Success Story

Community-focused programs amplify benefits for customers and utility systems

Thanks to a collaboration with Energy Trust and NW Natural, two Willamette Valley cities are using less natural gas across the entire community, bringing benefits for residents, business owners and utility systems.

Over the course of a three-year pilot that completed in 2022 and was evaluated in 2023, Energy Trust increased its outreach, marketing and cash incentives to help customers in Cottage Grove and Creswell complete 3,900 energy efficiency projects that resulted in local customers collectively saving up to 61% more natural gas than they would have without the community-focused effort.

Partnering with utilities to increase energy-efficiency projects within a specific geographic area—like a neighborhood, city or even a whole region—doesn’t just benefit the customers who see lower utility bills. Energy efficiency is an affordable way to meet growing energy needs in communities with constrained distribution systems.

“Rather than build new pipes or power lines – which can be costly – Energy Trust can help people in these communities use less energy so that infrastructure upgrades are not needed,” explained Andrew Shepard, Energy Trust residential program manager.

To achieve these results, the pilot relied on several strategies to increase participation—more outreach, higher incentives for gas efficiency measures and focused marketing that targeted those incentives to local customers.

An innovative marketing strategy, co-branded with Energy Trust and NW Natural, included direct mail, social media and outreach to residential and small business customers. Advertising efforts used geo-targeting to market the highest possible incentives to eligible customers.

Treating the entire community as a customer allows Energy Trust to customize offers based on local needs. For example, after finding that more than two-thirds of the households in Cottage Grove and Creswell were eligible for its income-qualified Savings Within Reach offer—which come with its highest incentives applied as an instant discount—Energy Trust removed the requirements for local customers to self-identify their income qualifications, making it easier for them to participate.

Engaging trusted local contractors to get the word out about these localized offers is a key element of community-focused programs. That’s why Energy Trust offered local trade allies working in the pilot areas an additional $4,000 to support their marketing efforts—that doubles the amount of annual business development funds they would normally be eligible for.

Utility partnerships that concentrate clean energy solutions within a community can serve a wide range of objectives, and Energy Trust is exploring this approach with other utility partners in multiple areas, both urban and rural.

For example, Energy Trust is now collaborating with PGE in North Portland’s Arbor Lodge and Overlook neighborhoods to increase adoption of technologies that connect to the electric grid—like smart thermostats and water heaters and solar with storage—so PGE can access and leverage stored electricity from the customers’ systems when demand is high.

This effort, called the Smart Grid Test Bed Collaboration, aims to upgrade about 580 homes and buildings. In total, these upgrades are expected to improve energy efficiency by about 10% and ultimately create a more flexible power grid that can accommodate energy needs now and years from now.

“Developing a proven model to work with utilities to implement community-focused programs can pay off with lower energy use in the short term, while helping avoid system constraints and expensive infrastructure investments in the long term,” said Shepard.