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Helping Disaster Victims to Rebuild Efficiently

By Melanie Wemple - Research Associate

As a researcher at E Source, I was recently asked to examine how demand-side management (DSM) programs can be adjusted to better serve residents and business owners impacted by a major natural disaster. Not surprisingly, the impetus for this inquiry was Hurricane Sandy. Though an undeniable tragedy—the superstorm damaged nearly 72,000 homes and businesses in New Jersey alone—disasters like Sandy do open the proverbial “window” on opportunities to rebuild or renovate damaged homes and businesses to be more efficient than their predecessors. Rebuilding efficiently helps households and businesses reap the benefits of energy savings, increased property values, and improved comfort, while advancing the overall goals of a more sustainable community. And utilities that are prepared to adjust or implement DSM programs in the wake of a disaster provide a valuable service above and beyond power restoration.

So I reached out to a few utilities that have experienced local and regional destruction caused by hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods to identify some best practices for energy-efficiency disaster relief. We’ve compiled the following near-term program enhancements from their real-world experiences:

  • Increase incentives for victims. Two weeks after Hurricane Sandy hit, Governor Dannel Malloy announced $3 million in additional energy-efficiency incentives for victims in Connecticut. In some cases, the increased funding created an incentive where there was none before or more than doubled the original rebate amount.
  • Extend a program’s time frame. After destructive flooding in Iowa in 2008, Alliant Energy extended application deadlines a full year for victims. This gave customers who were rebuilding more time to take advantage of Alliant’s significantly increased incentives.
  • Modify preapproval requirements. Pepco Holdings announced two options to help speed businesses through the rebate process after Hurricane Sandy: Expedited application approval (within four business days) or a complete waiver of preapproval requirements.
  • Validate eligibility to mitigate fraud. To ensure that special incentives are properly distributed without undue processes, consider a few options to validate customer eligibility: Trade allies, such as equipment dealers and installation contractors, could prequalify customers; customers could submit copies of their Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) applications or decision letters; or customers could submit photos of their damaged property with a signed letter explaining their situation.
  • Clarify program eligibility for the long term. After hurricanes in 2004 and 2005, Florida Power & Light modified its program standards to ensure that customers whose homes were damaged by the hurricanes would be eligible to participate in rebate programs, even if they’d recently participated in the past.

These suggestions are really only the tip of iceberg when it comes to connecting recovery efforts with purchasing energy-efficient equipment. Many of the mechanisms required to suddenly enhance DSM programs need to be developed far, far in advance of a disaster. For instance, utilities need a network of community groups to funnel information to customers. They need contractors and trade professionals who are trained to recommend comprehensive energy solutions—an important attribute when damages may affect multiple end uses or an entire building. And, just as importantly, utilities need retailers and distributors to stock more-efficient equipment because when an appliance fails, customers replace it with what’s available. Fortunately, in many cases, these dots are already being connected without regard to potential disasters. If you’re interested in learning more about how utilities are helping advance the market for energy-efficiency equipment contact us.

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