America Saves! Preservation Green Lab's Retrofit Project Takes Shape

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Small businesses are the backbones of communities throughout the country, exemplified by the countless individual stories and creative passions that together make Main Streets unique. Although places are as different as people, one thing remains true anywhere you look: Small businesses and Main Streets are underserved and often overlooked when compared to large chains and strip-mall suburbs. From zoning codes to technical resources to financial incentives, Main Streets are commonly left to fend for themselves.

The Preservation Green Lab, a department of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, believes that specific attention paid to the opportunity that exists in small buildings, home to Main Street businesses, may help level the playing field.

In a 2013 report, “Realizing the Energy Efficiency Potential of Small Buildings”, the Green Lab quantified the energy and cost savings readily available to Main Street businesses. The report focused on the primary challenges to delivering energy efficiency to the so-called hard-to-reach (HTR) small buildings sector, and also strategies to help realize energy efficiency.

Since the release of the Small Buildings report, the Green Lab has developed a national model for delivering energy efficiency to Main Street small businesses and buildings. The project, called America Saves!, received a $2 million Department of Energy matching award in July 2013 and has since received additional support for regional pilots in target markets. 

The ultimate objective of America Saves! is to use energy retrofits to increase the profitability of Main Street businesses and the capacity of Main Street organizations, although the near-term objectives are much more modest. America Saves! will work in partnership with the Main Street network to help realize readily available energy savings and create local jobs to support the related energy efficiency retrofit work. During the past eight months, the Green Lab has built a national team to deliver the key program components. The team includes the best and brightest of national leaders in education and training, technical analysis, and energy efficiency program implementation – the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), the Lend Lease Multi-Site Group, Building Energy, the Energy Center of Wisconsin (ECW), and Energy Resource Management (EnergyRM). For the first time, small businesses and small buildings are the focus of national energy efficiency efforts and resources. This is good news for Main Street.    

It’s important to note that America Saves! is not a radical new approach. Rather, the Green Lab is seeking to show energy services providers and investors what they’ve been missing by overlooking this important sector of the market. Main Streets have something that most cities and towns don’t – community – and that gives small businesses and building owners a leg up in achieving real savings. How? The organization, social capital and collective commitment to economic development that Main Street communities share are the key components of successful energy efficiency programs throughout the country. America Saves! is about bringing existing successful models to Main Street, to help accelerate energy efficiency programs and to bring national best practices to underserved small businesses that are overlooked in the conventional energy efficiency marketplace.

What does this mean for Main Street property owners, business owners and Main Street Managers?

First, America Saves! requires data. Specifically, America Saves! requires access to the utility bills of Main Street businesses and buildings in order to cost-effectively analyze the opportunity for energy efficiency. Businesses and building owners simply need to provide authorization to the Green Lab to obtain energy use data from their local utility.

The project team will then bring proven national resources to each community to evaluate potential cost savings, and partner with local utilities and energy efficiency programs to help streamline analysis and increase participation in the existing energy efficiency programs. The goal is to help businesses realize substantial cost savings through no-hassle approaches – meaning one-stop resources and minimal disruptions to Main Street businesses in the demonstration communities. During the three-year project, the team will develop tools that are intended to be used by all Main Street communities.

By supporting the work of Main Street Managers and State Coordinating Programs, organizing partnerships with utilities and energy efficiency administrators, and enabling local contractors, America Saves! is simply directing resources to small businesses in a streamlined delivery model. The combination of the strength of the Main Street network and recent advances in technology-based solutions sets the stage for deep and lasting savings that will improve profitability and capacity of Main Streets everywhere.

In the near term, the project team is leading focus groups in Main Street communities to tailor services to Main Street Managers and businesses. The America Saves! model will be tested in a select number of demonstration communities ahead of the 2014 National Main Street Conference in Detroit. The initial demonstration regions are the Upper Midwest and Pacific Northwest – please contact the Green Lab for more information: AmericaSaves@SavingPlaces.org.

Related Articles:
Saving Energy, Jobs and Money on Main Street Story of the Week, July 13, 2013