The Town of Jackson and Teton County, Wyoming are perhaps best known for unparalleled outdoor adventure opportunities, but not necessarily energy innovation. Adorning the walls of local restaurants and hotels are pictures of Dick Cheney, who famously declared that "conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy.”
Don’t tell that to the Jackson Hole Energy Sustainability Project (JHESP), a formal collaboration between the Town, County, and the local utility, Lower Valley Energy (LVE). The JHESP is on the verge of creating the nation’s most ambitious privately financed, publicly facilitated, utility partnership for energy efficiency investments in homes and public buildings in a small town.
Why? Because LVE sees energy efficiency as the lowest-cost resource, and the Town and County see it as a great way to lower energy bills and create jobs. The New Energy Cities team is helping them get there.
The JHESP is working closely with First Interstate Bank, which has agreed to offer a low-cost loan product to participants in the program who want to upgrade their homes. First Interstate is not only offering a competitive rate to participants, it has also offered to connect to a loan-loss reserve pool to bring down interest rates further. Payment on the loans is collected on the LVE utility bill, making it even easier for homeowners to participate. The goal of the JHESP is to offer a loan product that is easy to access, low-cost, and helps match the energy savings to the cost of the loan payment.
It sounds simple enough, but LVE, the Town, and the County have spent countless hours working with First Interstate and private citizens to make sure the program can function correctly. New Energy Cities has brought expertise and facilitation to the process since first conducting a workshop in May 2009. The result is a program that can work under the tight constraints around use of public money in Wyoming, and a program that should be simple for homeowners to understand. It could be a model for smaller cities around the nation to emulate.
Phase 1 of the program has a goal to upgrade over 100 homes, at an average cost of about $5,000 per home. In a town where the cost of electricity is only three-and-a-half cents a kilowatt-hour, the margins are tight. As the program works out any kinks and community interest grows, the program aims to expand to a district-level approach that would target entire neighborhoods for upgrades.
The upgrades in each phase will include homes with a mix of energy performance characteristics to ensure diverse data, deep retrofits, and opportunities for leverage between high return and low return homes. For a town the size of Jackson, the first phase is a significant investment.
Many cities across the U.S., both large and small, are looking for economic development strategies that include home upgrades and clean energy. Jackson is proving that small towns, where the bottom line matters above all else, can innovate.