Lincoln Electric System keeps refining efficiency incentives

Like rose bushes, customer energy-efficiency programs only flourish with careful attention, like Lincoln Electric System You are leaving Western's site. (LES) gives to its Sustainable Energy Program You are leaving Western's site..

The Nebraska municipal utility is funding its incentive program with $3 million this year to help customers make their homes and businesses more energy-efficient. The program is intended to encourage customer-owners to upgrade to equipment and systems that are more efficient than they would have purchased on their own.

Program participants are not the only LES customers who benefit, either. “The Sustainable Energy Program also reduces the need to purchase more expensive power during the summer months and delays the need for new power generation,” said Marc Shkolnick, LES manager of energy services. “This is a good investment for all our customer-owners.”

Broadening program
LES launched the Sustainable Energy Program in 2009 to reduce demand with energy efficiency and renewable energy to offset the utility’s projected five-year growth on a rolling basis. “We retooled a heat pump incentive to go after our summer peak,” explained Shkolnick. “Over time, we added more equipment and systems as we realized that it would take a more aggressive approach to ensure that all our customers were benefitting.”

LES offers funds to help customer-members upgrade insulation and seal their homes and businesses. (Photo by Lincoln Electric System)
LES offers funds to help customer-members upgrade insulation and seal their homes and businesses. (Photo by Lincoln Electric System)

The current version of the Sustainable Energy Program offers incentives for:

  • High-efficiency heat pumps and air conditioners for residential and commercial customers replacing existing cooling systems or installing them in newly built homes and buildings
  • Commercial and industrial energy-efficiency measures that achieve peak demand savings, such as commercial lighting retrofits, air conditioner or heat pump replacements, variable-frequency drive upgrades, compressed air system analysis and upgrade, energy management system installation, optimization or upgrade and system commissioning
  • Whole-house and facility sealing and insulation to seal penetrations and bring insulation levels to current code standards in existing homes and facilities

Air conditioner and heat pump upgrades are the most popular residential measures, and for commercial customers, “It’s lighting, by a slam dunk,” declared Shkolnick. “Over time, between the changes in technology and dropping prices, we’ve seen the most activity in lighting incentives.”

LES commercial customers overwhelmingly choose lighting upgrades to reduce their electricity bills. (Photo by Lincoln Electric System)
LES commercial customers overwhelmingly choose lighting upgrades to reduce their electricity bills. (Photo by Lincoln Electric System)

Spreading savings, awareness
Since 2009, residential customers have implemented 6,000 projects and commercial customers have completed 5,000 upgrades to save a cumulative estimate of 100,000 megawatt-hours. Leveraging $18.3 million in incentives, LES customers invested $87 million in energy-efficiency upgrades for an estimated annual savings of $7 million on electric energy bills, a win for the local economy, too.

In fact, trade allies have been among the program’s biggest promoters, noted Shkolnick. “People don’t think about these kinds of purchases until they need to. Contractors are talking to customers when they are ready to buy new equipment or systems, and they talk about the incentives,” he said. “LES promotes the program through the usual channels—bill stuffers, newsletters, ads—but the vendors are our most effective marketers.”

Getting off on the right foot with the local contractor pool—and staying there—helped. LES brought vendors in during the development of the Sustainable Energy Program to get their input. “We still do an annual orientation to update our trade allies on program changes, terms and conditions,” Shkolnick said. “Also, we moved the reimbursement system online to streamline the process and make it more user-friendly.”

Reaching out to contractors has paid off in more than program participation. A recent survey LES conducted showed not only a growing awareness among customer-owners about the Sustainable Energy Program, but also about energy use and reducing waste in general.

Making good even better
All of which is to say that the Sustainable Energy Program is doing a good job of saving energy and engaging customers. But is it keeping up with the times? Since LES launched the program, lighting technology has made great strides, building energy codes have tightened and federal efficiency standards have toughened.

Far from taking success for granted, LES recently hired a consultant to analyze seven years’ worth of data and experience. The third-party critique will review the program’s cost-effectiveness, and look at assumptions for claiming energy and demand savings and how the savings are modeled in the utility’s load forecast. “We want to make sure the program is following industry best practices,” said Shkolnick.

It takes work to build an effective energy-efficiency program—one that meets the needs of both customers and utility—and Lincoln Electric System is sowing what it wants to reap.