Exciting Updates on Energy Efficiency Efforts and More in Georgia
Groundswell’s work is ever-expanding into areas of opportunity including the Southeast and, more specifically, Georgia. Sixteen percent of Georgians fall below the federal poverty line compared to the national average of 12.7%. Those statistics, combined with the region’s extreme weather conditions (hot, humid summers + freezing winters) and inefficient, aging homes mean low-income Georgians pay seven times more of their income toward electricity than higher earners. Finding innovative, financially sustainable programs that address these issues and create jobs has been a key area of focus for Groundswell in Georgia.
Going big sometimes means starting small. That is why as Groundswell’s Southeastern Community Engagement Lead based in LaGrange, GA, I am focusing my efforts locally and throughout Georgia to explore the challenges and opportunities that exist around energy efficiency, community solar and sustainable growth. Doing so takes a multifaceted approach, so we are working closely with the local utility, elected officials, community leaders and residents to listen, familiarize ourselves with the landscape and work together to find solutions that address the needs. Groundswell is also looking at these same issues on a statewide level as a member of the Energy Efficiency For All (EFFA) Georgia Coalition. EEFA Georgia explores strategies that make multi-family and single-family homes healthy and affordable through energy efficiency.
The Pay As You Save (PAYS) program is one solution that is currently under consideration by the City of LaGrange to help those in our community who struggle with the highest energy bills and improve the efficiency of the older homes they likely live in. The PAYS program is a non-subsidized, financially sustainable energy efficiency upgrade program that serves low-income customers regardless of credit score or whether they rent or own their home. We applaud the City of LaGrange’s leadership for taking the initial steps necessary to address the very large issue of energy efficiency and quality of life by approving (unanimously, I might add) to fund Phase I development of a local PAYS program. Partnering to design a successful PAYS program for LaGrange is Southface, a leader in sustainable strategies and technical expertise throughout the Southeast.
In the small, rural towns of Ouachita, AR and Roanoke, NC, both the utility and customers are enjoying the benefits from a successful PAYS program implementation. In these cities, a customer enrolls in the PAYS program through their local utility and an energy audit for the home is scheduled. Once the audit is complete and the efficiency improvements identified (weather stripping, HVAC, insulation, caulking, low-flow toilets, LED bulbs, etc.), the improvements are made, and paid for, by the utility. The savings are immediate and the utility recovers the cost of the improvements by sharing in the savings with the customer. In Ouachita AR, customers on average experienced a more than 20% reduction in energy use resulting in lower energy bills from the very beginning. Not only does the PAYS program help customers reduce their utility bills and put money back in their pocket, it can also impact their quality of life by improving indoor air quality and thermal comfort, especially for the very young and elderly.
Energy efficiency programs like PAYS can also be an economic driver that positively impacts local economies as they help to create skilled jobs and opportunity. However, communities need to have a local workforce that is prepared to perform these jobs which is why as a board member of thINC Academy, our local high school college and career academy, and in conjunction with West Georgia Technical College, we are partnering to explore the curriculum and training skills necessary to prepare and train our future workforce.
Partnerships are the key to many of Groundswell’s successful endeavors. Michelle Moore, Groundswell’s CEO, may have said it best, “We believe that partnership is leadership, and that working with local values-aligned organizations with complimentary skills is always a better decision that reinventing the wheel or going it alone.” In LaGrange, Groundswell is truly blessed to partner with the Ray, a nonprofit that was created by the Ray C. Anderson Foundation. The Ray is dedicated to reimagining and revolutionizing an18-mile stretch of highway and the surrounding acres in order to transform the transportation infrastructure of the future and serve as a global model for change. From right-of-way solar arrays to solar-paved highways to highway shoulder bioswales and more, The Ray is creating a first-of-its-kind regenerative highway ecosystem.
LaGrange is a small town with a big heart and, like Groundswell, understands that the foundation of every thriving community is its ability to “love thy neighbor as yourself.” LaGrange is also a “City Inspired” that has a deep sense of community, a long history of public/private partnerships that invest in the success of the city, and it is open to innovative approaches to tackling big issues. LaGrange cares about those in their community that struggle and is committed to finding ways to improve affordability, quality of life and economic development. The good news is our work will not stop in LaGrange. Groundswell understands the opportunity and positive impact that connecting the dots between energy efficiency, community solar and sustainable growth can make on local economies and the health of the overall community. Which is why we are especially energized and excited to expand our efforts throughout the Southeast in the months and years to come.