Energy effciency program rebates $1.8 million to NE Ohio customers
By Jamison Cocklin
A little-known energy-efficiency program that has paid more than $2.5 million in rebates since its inception in 2010 is available to all of Dominion East Ohio’s customers.
Program managers say that invitation especially applies to the Youngstown area, which is considered undeserved compared with other markets Dominion serves such as Cleveland and Akron.
Dominion launched the Home Performance with Energy Star program in October 2010 and hired the Atlanta-based subcontractor GoodCents to manage and implement the program.
With an office in Brecksville, about 25 miles north of Akron, GoodCents has since performed 9,400 home-energy assessments throughout Northeast Ohio, said Dominion spokesman Neil Durbin.
Joe Marco, GoodCents’ Ohio program manager, said the program has been an “extreme success” but added there’s room to keep growing.
Durbin agreed, adding that Dominion has reached only a small portion of its 1.2 million customers in Ohio. The company established the program as an alternative for its customers who don’t qualify for similar low- income assistance programs.
GoodCents performs home-energy assessments across the U.S. and has worked for other Ohio utilities before.
A home-energy audit is the first step to figuring out where cost savings can be achieved during the winter months, Marco said. Under the program, a Dominion customer can call GoodCents to schedule an appointment with an auditor, who arrives at the home to assess insulation, windows, doors and energy-consuming equipment such as water heaters.
The audit costs $50 through the program. Marco said private contractors can charge up to $350 for the same service.
While on site, the auditor will hook up a blower door, which is a large fan that depressurizes the home by sucking air out. The test stimulates the effect of a 20 mph wind to allow the auditor to find air leaks with an infrared camera. Minor repairs also could be performed, such as adding insulation, weather stripping and a faucet aerator, which helps conserve hot water.
“We’re a third party — we’re nonbiased,” Marco said. “Other companies might recommend unnecessary installations. We’re really just there to show customers what we found.”
After the audit, which typically takes anywhere from three to four hours, GoodCents provides a full report detailing energy usage and what might need to be fixed. The company collects a fee from Dominion each time it performs an assessment.
If the customer wants more work to be done, GoodCents provides a list of recommended contractors participating in the program and the $50 fee is refunded.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that energy-efficiency upgrades can save a homeowner between 5 percent and 30 percent on their monthly energy bills.
“We find the biggest fuel savings on a house are the walls and attic by far,” said Sam Boak, president of Boak & Sons in Youngstown, a contractor that participates in the program. “I can insulate your attic and cut your [energy] bill by 40 [percent] to 50 percent, and it costs under $1,000. You’re only going to replace three or four windows for that.”
Boak said his company has performed about 100 winterization projects under the program. He said the company often refers customers to GoodCents before it goes forward with its work because so few people know about the program in the Youngstown area.
If a Dominion customer has home-efficiency improvements made, GoodCents will return to the house to do another test, certify the work and submit a rebate application to the utility company. Based on what was completed, those customers can receive a rebate of up to $1,250, Marco said.