In May, I wrote about Portland’s retrofit program, funded with federal stimulus dollars. Since then, I’ve had a chance to meet with Adam Zimmerman and Sue Taoka from Shorebank Enterprise Cascadia who updated me on how the program is unfolding. Shorebank is a community bank that is providing the services needed to manage the low interest loans that are the heart of the program. The goal is to fully retrofit 500 homes by June 30 of next year. But even with a sharp new name—Clean Energy Works: Portland—and its own website, the program is getting a slow start. So far, 30 applicants have sought out the program’s low interest loans for retrofits.

While pulling together all the moving parts—screening applicants, on-bill financing, audits, managing retrofits—is taking a lot of time, Clean Energy Works is concerned with creating a sustainable program over the long run rather than trying to drive out as many dollars as possible right away. That is a good thing.

It might be tempting to do a lot of audits (which is how Seattle is starting its program) or spend lots of money doing the same retrofits, say insulation, for many homes. But like the large number of federal stimulus dollars going into weatherization programs, an influx of new dollars can be difficult to spend effectively. The Portland effort is focused on four key outcomes with a small number of homes: achieving the maximum efficiencies, the most greenhouse gas reductions possible, creating jobs, and reducing the burden of energy costs on people who are too well off to qualify for weatherization programs but still without the means to get a bank loan for retrofits.

Portland’s program sets out to achieve these goals in several ways:

First and foremost, maximum efficiency. Homes need audits before and after retrofitting to be sure that the retrofit  creates the biggest savings. The consistent challenge for these programs is making sure that the retrofits actually happen—and having an audit after the work is a way of doing that.

Second, greenhouse gas reductions. Clean Energy Works will be using the Energy Trust’s Energy Performance Score (EPS).  As I wrote before the EPS is better than the Department of Energy’s Housing Energy Rating Score (HERS) Index in large part because it actually includes greenhouse gas emissions as part of the score. The audits should generate some good data on just how much of a reduction the retrofits accomplish.

Third, jobs. The program is beginning the process of connecting to local labor unions to talk about training programs. As we have seen earlier these training programs are essential to getting workers who are skilled in construction or other kinds of labor ready to perform new, unique tasks like conducting audits and completing effective retrofits.

Finally, serving a range of people. Portland’s program is working with Energy Trust local utilities to recruit applicants and getting loan payments to be included in monthly utility bills. This on-bill financing is a key component when it comes to reducing the financial burden of making loan payments. The payments would be attached to the home (even after current owners move on), would have interest rates that are lower the deeper the retrofits and are easier to budget for. Another nice thing about on-bill financing is that payments and savings are tracked on the monthly utility bill.  Seeing the savings in the form of lower energy bill should reassuring to the homeowner.

If the City of Portland, Shorebank and Energy Trust can put all of these pieces together it ought to make it easier to expand the program beyond the first 500 homes. The data collected will be solid and the small number of homes will allow for easier follow up.