Great things can happen when you have a seat at the table and a utility willing to think creatively about serving its affordable multifamily customers.
In July 2017, the National Housing Trust requested and was granted a seat at the regulatory table in Michigan to share its unique perspective on multifamily energy needs. As the only multifamily-focused intervenor in DTE Energy’s Energy Waste Reduction filing, Annika Brink, NHT’s Midwest Regional Director of Energy Efficiency Policy, negotiated with DTE for better-funded, better-designed multifamily programs. These efforts resulted in a settlement agreement in which DTE budgeted an additional $4.25 million for low-income multifamily housing for 2018-2019!
Beginning with a Pilot
To start, DTE agreed to spend $1 million on a new one-stop-shop pilot for affordable multifamily buildings. This pilot will offer many free items and experiment with different rebate levels for the other measures it offers. This will help DTE determine where it should set its rebates in order to motivate owners to undertake deep, whole-building retrofits (rather than projects that just address one item, such as lighting). These rebates will pay for a higher percentage of project cost as an owner achieves more savings.
Second, DTE agreed to increase its proposed income-eligible multifamily program budget from $3.9 to $7.15 million and make immediate improvements to its existing offerings. These include an expanded list of free items, improved energy assessments and reports, rebates for additional items, and an easier process for affordable multifamily buildings to automatically qualify for income-eligible rebates without burdensome paperwork. Additionally, unsubsidized properties will be able to qualify based on their Census tract and Low-Income Housing Tax Credit applicants will be able to reserve rebates for up to 18 months.
As learnings from the pilot start to emerge, DTE will begin incorporating additional changes into this program, including likely increases to rebate levels.
A Team Effort
In parallel, NHT’s partner on the EEFA project, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), worked with DTE to develop a unique program inspired by our partner, NAACP and their Lights Out in the Cold report, which called out DTE for carrying out more than twice as many shutoffs in 2011 as in 2007, among other shut-off-related issues. As a result of NRDC’s conversations with the utility, DTE agreed to dedicate $5 million in new funding over two years to deliver energy efficiency to low-income customers who are behind on their bills.
This innovative approach will use bill payment status as an early warning sign for customers at risk of shut-off, and pair bill assistance with energy efficiency upgrades in an attempt to break the cycle of high utility bills. Additionally, DTE will study whether its income-eligible multifamily program reduces instances of customers being behind on their bills and whether there are clusters of payment-troubled customers within specific multifamily buildings.
These successes were the result of hours of patient, respectful conversations among NHT, NRDC, and utility staff. Throughout the course of several months we filed testimony, answered each other’s questions, and dug into the nitty-gritty of how DTE’s programs work. In the end, we arrived at solutions that all parties were excited about. DTE has agreed to regular check-ins with NHT through 2019 so that we can analyze key metrics together and troubleshoot any issues by tapping NHT’s knowledge of national best practices and key in-state partners.
The cherry on top? A closer relationship with DTE and the promise of more productive collaboration to come.
For more information on EEFA or NHT’s energy efficiency work in the Midwest, contact NHT’s Midwest Regional Director of Energy Efficiency Policy, Annika Brink.