LEAP—Local Energy Alliance Program
Executive Director Andrew Grigsby’s Presentation May 23, 2017
Andrew Grigsby began with an overview of his organization’s history and current activities. From the LEAP website:
Our story began in the fall of 2009, when the City of Charlottesville and County of Albemarle jointly applied for and won a competitive grant to fund a community-based energy efficiency organization. After the formation of our Governance Board, the Local Energy alliance Program (LEAP) was incorporated as a 501c3 nonprofit in 2010. LEAP began its highly successful path of home energy upgrades by launching its Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program in July 2010, followed by a program for commercial property owners in 2011, and the start of renewable energy services with the first Solarize campaign in 2014.
In 2012, LEAP added a second office in northern Virginia and began offering a variety of services there. While our focus is on the greater Charlottesville and Northern Virginia regions, we’ve worked with partners and provided services and programs across most of Virginia. As we like to say, “every community needs a LEAP.” So, we go where we’re needed.
Since its inception, LEAP has established itself as a trusted leader in Virginia for home and business energy efficiency and renewables thanks to the relationships we have developed with our customers, contractors, local governments, and many other partners.
Residents struggling with high energy bills or uncomfortable homes and business owners seeking to cut energy costs come to LEAP for building science expertise and, when available, special rebates and loans to make energy upgrades more affordable.
LEAP’s mission is to lead the effort in local communities to implement energy efficient and renewable technologies in buildings; to promote cost savings for families and businesses, job creation, energy self-reliance, and local economic development; and to mitigate climate change.
At this point, with the ending of the stimulus funding from the Recovery Act, LEAP is down from 23 employees to 7 but has added an office in NOVA. Instead of being fully funded with federal grant money, only 8% of its income is from grants and it is following a more entrepreneurial model. Now the majority comes from acting as a ‘contractor’ for Dominion and other local utilities and its home energy audit rebate program and weatherization program for low income residents. It also serves as a sub-contractor for Community Housing Partners (CHP). Grigsby is hopeful that Dominion will re-establish its home energy checkup program later this year. If so, he expects greater incentives for both LEAP and Dominion customers—e.g. recovery by LEAP for both walk-through and for direct installs and no income limit for customers. He noted that for Dominion an advantage to a customer’s improving a home’s energy efficiency is reduction in demand, often during peak load times.
When called up by a customer, LEAP sends a specially trained “energy analyst” to any home more than 4 years old. In addition to the usual Dominion practice of switching out incandescent bulbs, wrapping water heaters, and adding weather stripping to doors, with the rebate covering the basic costs, LEAP gives a separate audit report to the customer with an itemized list of needed improvements in increasing order of cost and suggests competent reliable contractors. Apartment buildings can be made more efficient through the VA Multi-family Energy Efficiency Coalition of the Virginia Housing Alliance. As LEAP tells the landlords, doing this “will improve your property, make your renters happy and better able to pay their bills.” Grigsby also noted two other entities with a focus on energy efficiency: VA Housing Alliance and Energy Efficiency for All.
Grigsby suggested that what is needed now are companies that would offer turn-key services from audit to weatherization plus financing. Some solar energy companies such as Sigora Solar and Altenergy are beginning to offer financing and the idea may spread. Both companies are also including energy efficiency audits as part of their business models.
One of LEAP’s goals for the future is to get all municipal utilities to put money into energy efficiency incentive programs like Appalachian Power has in southwest Virginia, West Virginia and Tennessee. Grigsby noted that Elkton is one of the several municipal utilities in VA, and, of course, Harrisonburg Electric Commission (HEC) is another.
When asked about building codes (for new construction), Grigsby said the meaning and enforcement of “air-tight” is at the crux of the matter. Currently, “air-tight” can be determined either by a blower door test or by visual inspection and the usual choice is obvious. However, inspectors in the Blacksburg area are requiring builders to supply real data, the kind that doesn’t come from a quick visual examination. He added that the VA Building Code is currently undergoing revision and he is watching this closely as well as making recommendations.
Attendees asked about utility service areas and, following the meeting, Grigsby provided one. Find it here. We also told him about the VA SUN campaign to ask Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative member/owners to encourage the co-op to improve its use of solar and its renewable energy policies. In addition, we told him we were working with Renew Rocktown on ways to propose some win-win ways for HEC to do the same. Further, we made him aware of Renew Rocktown’s current energy audit project.
From what we learned thanks to Andrew Grigsby’s presentation and responses to our many questions, attendees concluded that LEAP has been an admirable addition to the Charlottesville area and would make huge difference in Harrisonburg if the city could be convinced it was in their best interests to forego the additional income from the HEC that arises from wasted energy sales and require energy efficiency incentives to be offered. We also think that LEAP’s having an office in Harrisonburg would facilitate efforts such as CAAV’s weatherization promotion program and Renew Rocktown’s energy audit project, if we can make any headway with HEC and the city through our upcoming collaborative effort noted above (that kicks off May 31).
– Joni Grady and Joy Loving, for the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee, May 2017