Thanks is large part to the vision and charisma of program manager Ceedy Mewszel and her colleagues, Otter Tail Power Company has designed and implemented two rather exceptional programs to assist low income customers in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Their humor is apparent even in the programs’ names, House Therapy and Appliance Aid, the latter of which comes complete with a "ten-step process" in fond recognition of the program’s acronym, "AA".
While House Therapy began in 1988 as part of a mandated initiative it has evolved over time and is primarily designed to alleviate the financial pressures on low-income customers with all-electric heat, an expensive proposition in the cold winters of Minnesota. Over its five-year history the program has served 820 homes with deep levels of savings. The average savings per home is ~1,332 kWh per year at an installed average cost of ~$1,600.
A House Therapy treatment may include any number of cost-effective energy efficiency measures. Measures installed include ceiling, wall, floor, foundation, and rim insulation; weatherstripping and caulking; water heater jackets, water heater pipe insulation and electric water heater replacement; door and window replacement; thermostat relocation; space heater replacement; energy-efficient light fixture installation; stratification fan installation; and residential demand controller installation.
Appliance Aid is currently in its pilot stage and is available as a free service to all low income customers regardless of their space heating source provided they have electric hot water heating. AA promotes the efficiency of customers’ refrigerators, air conditioners, dehumidifiers, and other electric appliances. Compact fluorescent lamps, low-flow showerheads, water heater and pipe insulation, and if necessary a new electric water heater, are installed at no cost. On average Otter Tail spends less than $130 per home for measures installed and labor costs.
One of the unique and successful features of both programs is that they are delivered through Community Action Program (CAP) Agencies rather than using in-house staff or contractors. The utility and the CAP Agencies both reap benefits from this arrangement. Otter Tail credits much of the programs’ success to the CAP's ability to deliver the program as a result of their knowledge of the local communities. The sixteen CAPs involved deliver a valuable service to their customers and are allowed 7.5% of the installation costs to cover their administration of the programs. While providing a source of revenues for the CAPs, the delivery mechanism is also believed to provide substantial public relations benefits for Otter Tail Power.
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