An electric cooperative in Colorado is bundling its energy-efficiency programs and many of its consumer services under a single brand and making them available to everyone working or living near its service territory.
“Too many people struggle to pay their electric bills and cannot afford to make energy-efficient upgrades, or can’t find someone to install a product,” said Reg Rudolph, general manager of San Isabel Electric Association. “Everyone should have an opportunity to be more energy efficient and save money.”
That’s the goal of the Pueblo West-based distribution co-op’s Empower program. Launched last autumn, Empower works to identify qualified contractors and suppliers of proven products. It also helps find ways to finance improvements and upgrades for its members and others who live and work in southern Colorado.
“We have an exurban service territory that includes a lot of rural residents. Seventy-five percent of our housing stock is at least 45 years old, so this is fertile ground for energy-efficiency upgrades,” said Rudolph. “It’s also hard to get contractors to commit to projects in remote areas, so we’re helping to identify and develop a base of dependable and qualified service providers.”
San Isabel Electric offers on-bill financing for major mechanicals, including HVAC systems, water heaters and rooftop solar arrays. The co-op includes insulation, window upgrades, electric vehicle charging stations and energy storage systems as eligible improvements.
“We have the ability to access low-cost capital, and when we provide that, we flow the value through to our members,” said Rudolph. “If you’re not a member—we call them ‘energy partners’—we can provide that financing at a lower cost of interest.”
The costs of many of the upgrades can be partially or completely offset by more efficient energy use.
Rudolph and the San Isabel Electric board see this “pay-as-you-save” approach as a major component of the co-op’s beneficial electrification strategy.
“Market penetration for many of the products we’re offering is below 20%, so there are plenty of opportunities for growth,” said Rudolph. “If we have our rates right, we can compete with natural gas and propane, so we see Empower as a way to grow our utility sales and enhance the services available to everyone living in our area.”
The co-op is forging relationships with solar and window contractors interested in expanding sales in their territory. It’s also working with a homebuilder to promote “all electric home” construction. Rudolph hopes to expand the program to include more builders and vendors.
“Every product that we offer has a reason be in the product mix, and we’ve assigned sales goals as well as long-term values of increasing electricity usage,” said Rudolph. “San Isabel Electric is a trusted name in southern Colorado, so we think this is going to help both members and non-members alike.”
Derrill Holly is a staff writer at NRECA.