October 17, 2023 | Rachel Ellis
Denver has an ambitious goal to eliminate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2040. In order to meet that goal, the city must prioritize climate and equity strategies like upgrading homes to reduce emissions, increased investment in renewable energy, climate justice, and job creation.
In 2020, taxpayers voted yes to a local sales tax increase that would help allocate $40 million a year to the Climate Protection Fund (CPF), a fund managed by The Denver Office of Climate Action, Sustainability, and Resiliency (CASR).
Two notable initiatives have come from this investment: The Healthy Homes Program and The Good Green Jobs Program, both of which support important advancements in green workforce development and high performing homes and buildings for the people and City and County of Denver.
Our homes are supposed to be safe and healthy spaces, but for too many Coloradans, GHG emissions, mold, pests, and other chemicals in the home are making people sick. The Equity Index Scores from 2020 indicate that historically redlined, hazardous districts like Globeville, Elyria Swansea, and Five Points are extremely vulnerable to poor air quality and other environmental contaminants. These urban areas and families of color are often disproportionately impacted. Oftentimes additional factors like poor HVAC systems, unreliable transit, financial stress, and allergies further exacerbate health and safety problems within these communities.
Source: City of Denver
Energy Outreach Colorado (EOC) and climate tech company BlocPower were selected to join CASR to support their Healthy Home Electrification Program. This program aims to use weatherization and beneficial electrification to reduce GHG emissions while focusing on the improved health and safety of residents with pre-existing health conditions living in high risk areas.
Over the next three years, EOC, Blocpower, and CASR will work together to decarbonize 200 low-to moderate-income households, providing health and economic benefits of building electrification where they are needed most. BlocPower will focus on multifamily buildings, while EOC will focus on income-qualified single family homes. Together they will work to improve a home’s building envelope, provide free access to solar and community solar gardens, and replace gas appliances with electric induction stoves and heat pumps.
Though each project scope is tailored to the individual building and the needs of the tenant, it is estimated that on average $50,000 per household is the cost to achieve these upgrades. EOC is leveraging $1.89 million from their utility partnership with Xcel Energy. Additionally, the CPF will provide $6 million from fiscal years 2021-25.
The Healthy Homes program gives priority to families who have someone suffering from chronic respiratory issues. One of EOC’s health partners at Children’s Hospital, Denver Health, Kaiser Permanente, Clinica Tepeyac, or National Jewish Hospital refers interested families to the program. Households will also be income-qualified at or below 80% of Denver’s Area Median Income.
For all eligible residents, the EOC will conduct a home energy assessment on homes to evaluate energy efficiency measures, healthy homes measures, and electrification measures. In addition to this assessment, the scope of work is based on quantitative data collected from indoor air quality devices that determine a household’s carbon and particulate matter levels. These monitoring devices are set up two weeks before the energy assessment. Since the project’s primary goal is to use energy efficient technology to create a healthier home environment and help participants avoid future healthcare costs associated with their respiratory conditions, the same air monitoring will then take place for two weeks post installation.
Weatherization and beneficial electrification reduce GHG emissions, improve indoor air quality, and reduce vulnerability to extreme heat. But the Healthy Homes program has an impact that strives to reach beyond the environmental benefits.
The families that were served with Colorado Children’s Hospital in the Healthy Homes pilot program reported significant improvements in their health and comfort. Ashley Feiertag, Director of Residential Programs for EOC, said that improving these issues has led to a much better living experience for their clients, with lower incidence of things like asthma attacks, mold induced headaches, and reduced stress.
“This is unique work and through it we’re trying to reduce medical bills,” Ashley said. “We’re excited to see this come to fruition on this big of a scale.”
Laura Monthahthon, nurse practitioner for Denver Health, has spent the last few years focusing on implementing a home environment and asthma education program to patients suffering from asthma. The opportunity to partner with EOC gave her the chance to use her developed relationships and expertise to improve the built environment of high risk families.
She referred to one mother and son, both of whom have asthma, who were able to receive extensive weatherization upgrades in addition to a heat pump thanks to the Healthy Homes program.
“Not only have these upgrades proven to decrease families’ electrical bills, but it makes their homes and the people living inside much healthier,” she said.
The collaboration with EOC is an exciting opportunity for Laura to build awareness of the environmental benefits of this work in addition to how it improves the health education within her treatment practice.
“It’s rewarding to be able to offer patients a program that is comprehensive and can do so much,” she said. “Anything that can help alleviate financial stress and make homes more stable will improve the health and livelihoods of these families.”
EOC hopes to provide homeowners with better comfort and resiliency in their homes while striving to enlist a commitment to energy efficiency from their clients. The long-term goal is to have doctors write prescriptions for their patients to make it easier to qualify someone for the Healthy Homes program. Now that inspections are mandated in Denver for multifamily units, with a similar mandate possible for single family homes in the next year, the rental market can become a more equitable and collaborative space for the city’s most vulnerable homeowners.
Good green Jobs
Cold climate air source heat pumps are a critical component of programs like Healthy Homes. And as The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) incentives further encourage energy efficient upgrades in residential and commercial spaces, the HVAC and contracting industry is struggling to find the workforce required to meet current and future demands.
The question becomes this: how do we address this common barrier in energy efficiency work? The Energy Efficiency Business Coalition (EEBC) might have a solution. As one of the only organizations in the nation that considers the business potential of the energy efficiency industry, the EEBC represents the entire supply chain. Their members are made up of early adopters who keep up with energy trends. The coalition aims to bring the business voice of the energy efficiency trades industries to existing and proposed rebate policies, programs, and Demand Side Management programs from Xcel Energy like the Home Energy Audits rebate program.
Beneficial electrification trends are creating so much additional demand in the marketplace for installing high performance equipment that there is a huge shortage in skilled and trained workforce. According to Patricia Rothwell, Executive Director at the EEBC, the nation is 147,000 jobs short to meet current demands.
And although the market is changing, Patricia has observed that contractors struggle to transition towards new energy efficiency measures because it requires a total shift in their business model. She feels that without enough workforce capacity to meet the timeline and volume of capacity to close the gap, it will result in an economic travesty.
Partnership and program overview
The EEBC partnered with, ICAST, one of their members, and Julius to create a pipeline for workforce development and training programs. Together, they applied for the Good Green Jobs (GGJ) RFP in 2021, a CASR initiative funded with the CPF.
GGJ became a $450,000 award allocated to six recipients, including the EEBC, to create equitable training pathways to quality clean energy and construction jobs that will support Denver’s growing green economy. The EEBC built their Workforce Training and Hiring Pipeline on existing climate goals and the desire to transition the existing workforce into cleaner energy technology.
Their partnership with ICAST ensures that paid HVAC, heat pump, and skills training and credentialing curriculum is accessible for employers and their current and prospective workers. The hope is to target both younger generations to run the new energy economy in the next 10 years while upskilling current industry members. Julius focuses on talent solutions and delivers comprehensive training on soft skills and business skills.
CASR’s augmentation of funding for a green workforce aims to help deepen stakeholder engagement in order to embed job inclusion in government spending. One of the long-term visions is to create career pathways and expand opportunities for individuals from under-resourced communities and enable a just transition to support climate-resilient and sustainable communities.
Colorado Lighting Institute
The Colorado Lighting Institute (CLI) supplies lighting, electrical and sign services to commercial, industrial, and government clients. They place an emphasis on efficiency, sustainability, and reducing environmental impact on the planet through conservation and alternative power sources.
The company has benefitted from the soft skills training provided by Julius. CEO Scot Kelley, also a board member for the EEBC, wanted to bring the business-oriented modules to his 100 employees, whose expertise in the company ranges from the electrical side to the sales side. Kelley stressed the importance of everyone at CLI being educated in order to remain at the forefront of what is out there in an industry that is constantly changing.
One example was “The Power of Yet” training, a 7-minute module that explores a growth mindset of looking at things from the standpoint of “I don’t know how to do that yet but I’m going to get there.” The emphasis on solutions-oriented approaches, effective communication and active listening has introduced a strong, service related mindset to employees at CLI. Since customer service is a core fundamental value of the company, Kelley feels his employees have benefitted from a better understanding of how to build rapport and maintain client relationships.
“We are an industry where we’re constantly learning new things, and doing things that have never been done before,” Kelley explained. “Developing our ability to take accountability and ownership and becoming more skilled at how to receive feedback is all part of the evolving process of staying up to speed with energy trends.”
Energy Resource Center
The Energy Resource Center (ERC) works with income-qualified Colorado residents to provide energy-efficient single-family, mobile, or multi-family home upgrades for healthier and happier homes, including rental properties with a qualified tenant and owner approval.
Over the years, it hasn’t been difficult for the ERC to remain fully staffed, but the pandemic was a turning point that has left them struggling to fill five or six openings mainly for work in the field in weatherization and energy efficiency. Some of their job postings for HVAC technicians have been ongoing for several years. Currently, the ERC contracts out heat pump installations because they don’t have enough expertise on staff.
Being understaffed in the Denver metro area is what brought CASR to reach out about their green workforce programming. ERC CEO Howard Brooks feels that technician work is some of the most important work that anyone can be doing right now.
“This is a career that matters and the pay and benefits are strong, and there’s a lot of potential for growth and advancement,” Brooks said.
Reginold Owens, a current employee at the ERC, is someone who came in with limited experience but an eagerness to learn. He was familiar with the HVAC industry but never had the time to get a license. Even without all the proper credentials, upon seeing an entry level opportunity with the ERC, he applied and was invited for an interview and then was offered a position as an HVAC technician.
Reginold has since been able to deepen his skills and understanding of renewable energy by utilizing the trainings from Julius and ICAST. He’s benefitted from both conflict resolution and technical trainings. Now, when conducting audits in the field, Reginold has valuable knowledge that helps him evaluate cost effectiveness and eligibility for heat pump technology when retrofitting homes.
“I’ve learned about how important green energy is, saving homeowners money on their monthly bills and improving their health and safety,” he said. “I’ve also learned how to be patient and I commend the patience and flexibility from the ERC as I continue to grow my understanding of the work and of the needs of clients.”
After just 60 days on staff, Reginold was offered a raise. And 30 days after that came another increase in his salary. Between the hands-on work of the job, the online trainings, and the ERC’s commitment to supporting professional development, Reginold has become well-versed in venting, duct, and metal work and has found comradery among his fellow industry members. He feels it’s a great industry that is only going to continue to grow, and he feels secure about his professional future and those of his two sons, one of who has started to participate in trainings of his own.
The CPF is contributing to efforts to reduce GHG emissions, improve the health and safety of residents and homes, and build more jobs in the industry. The continued investment of these programs is essential to meet Denver’s ambitious climate goals. Combining CASR awards with federal IRA incentives is a critical component to creating a more equitable, efficient future for the state of Colorado.