Business & Economy

Utilities offer incentives to improve energy efficiency in rental housing

[A] new program launched Wednesday in Burlington aims to increase the energy efficiency of multifamily rental properties in the city.

The project, called the Energy Champ Challenge, is being launched by Vermont Gas and Burlington Electric to promote more efficient energy consumption in rental properties in the Queen City. It calls for 50 multi-unit residential property owners to sign up on a first-come, first-served basis.

Burlington Electric and Vermont Gas will provide a free audit and a 75-percent discount on energy efficiency improvements made to those first 50 properties.

Neale Lunderville

Neale Lunderville, general manager of the Burlington Electric Dept.

Neale Lunderville, general manager at Burlington Electric, said the project is a “a unique partnership” that will help to tackle the challenge of “whole-home efficiency for multifamily residential homes in Burlington.”

The program is consistent with the city’s effort to bring down the cost of living in Burlington, according to Mayor Miro Weinberger. He said that lower utility bills can take some financial pressure off Burlington residents – who currently pay an average of 44 percent of their income on rent.

At a Wednesday news conference, Lunderville cited Burlington Electric’s commitment to renewable energy.

“We take great pride in being a leader in the green energy revolution. We’ve been trend-setters in efficiency and renewability for decades. Statistics speak for themselves. Burlington had its first formal efficiency efforts in 1990. These efforts have been so successful that Burlington uses less energy today than it did in 1990,” he said.

Weinberger agreed, praising the department for its flexibility and willingness to adapt its business model to the increasingly high standards of renewability and efficiency.

“Too often in the past I think the energy industry has been a force resisting change and innovation, and the opposite of that is happening here in Vermont,” Weinberger said. “That’s been the tradition for a long time, and at Burlington Electric. Neale has really grabbed onto that tradition and that history, and has taken it to new heights.”

Unlike the municipally funded Burlington Electric, Vermont Gas relies on consumers’ gas bills to ultimately make a profit.

Asked why the company would want customers to reduce their gas consumption, Vermont Gas general manager Scott Harrington said that increased fuel efficiency is consistent with the company’s business plan. Better insulated homes pay lower gas bills, but also consume less fuel, which means lower overhead for the company, he said.

Allyson and Mohamed Basha, owners of a property at 147 Loomis Street, are the first to take the challenge. Allyson Basha said that although she was initially motivated to request an audit by the incentive of lower utility costs, she has come to view the project as necessary from an ecological perspective.

“We sort of started researching and understanding the effects on the environment and the economy and everything. Most importantly, we want to leave a green thumbprint for our children and make a better tomorrow,” she said at the news conference.

“Now is the time,” said Mohamed Basha. “It didn’t make sense not to do it today.”

For more information on the program, visit www.energychampbtv.com

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Sam Heller

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