Authors: Brad Swing | Director, Renew Boston
From America's first Subway to first-in-the-nation LEED requirements for private buildings, Boston has been a leader in sustainability. Mayor Thomas M. Menino is continuing to lead the way with an innovative initiative called Renew Boston that helps residents struggling to pay their bills by weatherizing homes and creating green jobs in the community.
"Renew Boston is a unique public-private partnership that is transforming the lives of neighborhood residents, while significantly advancing our climate action agenda," said Mayor Menino. "This latest effort encourages energy efficiency across all of Boston's neighborhoods and will save residents money on energy bills, dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and put local people to work in good paying green jobs."
Launched in August 2010, the Renew Boston Residential Energy Efficiency Program is an effort that includes the local utilities, NSTAR and National Grid; Next Step Living, a Boston-based weatherization company; the non-profit Mass Energy Consumers Alliance (Mass Energy); and a number of community-based organizations. Renew Boston aims to weatherize homes for residents between 60-120% of area median income living in buildings with 4 or fewer units. These residents can struggle to pay for weatherization work because they do not qualify for the low-income Weatherization Assistance Program, but may not have the discretionary income to take advantage of the rebates offered by the statewide utility-sponsored energy efficiency program, Mass Save. Using Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Renew Boston provides the final 25% of the customer cost-share to complement a 75% utility rebate provided by Mass Save. In total, qualifying City residents can receive a no-cost home energy assessment and up to $3500 in energy upgrades to insulate and weatherize their home.
In one year, Renew Boston has already had a significant impact:
- More than 2,800 energy assessments and over 450 weatherization jobs have been completed.
- Building Performance Institute (BPI)-certified energy technicians with Next Step Living and their subcontractors are performing quality installations that are projected to save the typical household $800 or more in annual energy costs, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25-35%.
- Over 40 Boston residents have been hired into green collar careers with family-supporting wages through Next Step Living, the City of Boston, Mass Energy, and other contractors.
- 26 neighborhood associations, labor groups, small businesses, environmental organizations, places of worship and other community-based organizations have joined as outreach or referral partners.
And the best is yet to come. Renew Boston has made several improvements in response to customer feedback. Recent improvements include streamlining eligibility verification, providing assistance for remediating health and safety issues, and adding a $50 incentive for new referrals. Renew Boston is also providing valuable feedback to utility partners and Massachusetts state regulators on innovative ways to help "hard to reach, hard to serve" residents.
Renew Boston has also contracted with three community-based organizations to hire full time coordinators to lead outreach that will supplement other advertising and marketing efforts. Moreover, 26 community organizations have organized housewarming parties, hosted community meetings, set up tables at farmers markets and transit stops, canvassed their neighborhoods, and spread the word through online message boards, websites, and social networks.
From the beginning, Renew Boston organized to create permanent family-supporting wages in green collar careers. Contractors participating in the program are required to commit to workforce standards consistent with the Boston Jobs Policy, ensuring local hires, positions for historically disadvantaged populations, and compensation for workers that meet or exceed livable wages. Local community groups and workforce development agencies committed their support in finding qualified Boston residents to fill these positions. So far, the program has delivered.