Keeping warm in Flagstaff at 7000 ft.

Flagstaff, Arizona – perhaps best-known for its Ponderosa Pines, ‘getting your kicks’ on Route 66, and the San Francisco Peaks is also the ‘blue’ in this ‘red’ state – an enclave of the more progressive types who are really, genuinely interested in sustainability. How does that translate to home energy efficiency?

Flagstaff (population 66,000) certainly gets its fair share of sunshine, but living at nearly 7,000 feet means cold winters and windy days – with just as much need for insulation and air tightness as more northern states. So the city is using its Recovery Act money (nearly $600,000) to fund deep retrofits. These funds are being used for the Flagstaff Residential Energy Efficiency Program for 550 residential energy efficiency retrofits, creating and retaining 8 – 12 jobs in the Flagstaff community, saving 5 million kilowatts of energy annually, offsetting 5,446,875 pounds of carbon dioxide annually and saving $195,000 in utility bills annually. The energy audit and retrofit are available on an income-based fee structure starting at $25 and workiing up to $625 for incomes over 80,000. For this fee, the homeowner receives an energy upgrade worth $1,250. The upgrade focuses on insulation, weather stripping, duct sealing, furnace inspection, and efficient lighting and water fixtures, with an aim of reducing energy use by an average of 30% and billsavings of $450 a year.

The Flagstaff Sustainability Program has several other of its own initiatives, such as the energy display meter lending program and the LED holiday light swap. But it makes the most of its networks and partners – such as the ReNEWS Regional Network for Energy and Water Sustainability – partnering with other government agencies, the university, and community college  to provide a coordinated approach to these issues.  It helps fund the Sustainable Economic Development Initiative, which has a special task force on energy to encourage cooperation between government, business and non-profits on energy efficiency. And the Coconino Country Sustainable Building Program has goes from strength to strength – offering guidance, support, tours – now looking at retrofit and not just new builds.

One interesting project is the affectionately named WACBAT – or Weatherisation and Community Building Action Team. This is a Northern Arizona University student, faculty and community group aimed at ramping up energy efficiency retrofits. The project is working with community centers in two of Flagstaff’s poorest neighborhoods (Southside and Sunnyside), raising awareness of energy use, helping with audits and installs. They partner with the city, county and utilities to raise money for these initiatives. Homes and community buildings have all benefited, with the aim of creating a more sustainable local economy, with local jobs and strong sense of community and environmental stewardship.

In the same community of Southside, the Murdoch Community Centre is ‘going solar’. It is raising the money to pay for the panels one tile at a time through Solar Mosaic. This unique financing initiative allows any individual to buy tiles- or shares- in this solar project for $100 a piece, which will be earned back over time. So if you can’t afford to ‘go solar’ on your own house, you can have a stake in a community solar project, and still get your money back.

All this – and ratepayer programs from the Arizona utilities as well. It all adds up to growing awareness and a gradual growth in home upgrades and some renewables – though program managers would admit uptake remains slow. The economic downturn definitely continues to have an impact on energy efficiency programs in the US – and Flagstaff is no exception. Homeowners remain reluctant to ‘spend to save’ on energy efficiency, and city, county and utility programs need to be smarter at tapping in to homeowner needs for comfort, energy security and money.  The end of the Recovery Act funding in Flagstaff and other cities and states will place ever greater strain on program budgets, just at a time when continuity in funding is needed to maintain a steady growth in demand for and supply of home upgrades.

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