New program will create jobs while helping businesses, homeowners reduce utility bills

Opportunity Council, in partnership with Sustainable Connections, has received a $2.7 million grant through the U.S. State Department of Energy and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to help local homeowners and businesses save energy costs.

The Community Energy Challenge, a two-year pilot program slated to launch in January 2010, is designed to create jobs, increase energy efficiency, and reduce utility bills for homeowners and small business owners throughout Whatcom County. This new program builds on the nationally recognized weatherization program, but is not limited to low-income households.

Shawn Collins, Community Energy Challenge Manager, said the Opportunity Council is ideally situated to implement this new program that expects to serve 1,800 residences and 150 businesses in Whatcom County in the next two years.

“The Opportunity Council has been providing weatherization services in the community for more than 20 years and has a wealth of expertise in the field,” Collins said.

Collins said the two-year pilot program will provide a comprehensive One Stop Shop to help customers with energy information, site energy audits, building and equipment retrofits, utility rebates and tax credits, financing through a revolving loan program, and contractor services. The project will generate approximately 35 local jobs and provide training to contractors interested in becoming certified in weatherization and energy efficiency retrofit work.

The multi-million dollar award is one of eight Community Energy Efficiency Pilot Program grants. The grant will build on additional support for the Community Energy Challenge provided by the City of Bellingham, Whatcom County, Puget Sound Energy and Cascade Natural Gas.

The Community Energy Challenge will include a public outreach and education campaign with more information that will encourage local homeowners and small business owners to participate in the program.

Sustainable Connections is non-profit membership organization of 650+ northwest Washington business and community leaders working to transform and model an economy built on sustainable practices. Sustainable Connections was a lead partner in the 2006-2007 Green Power Community Challenge, which led to Bellingham’s recognition as the number one EPA certified Green Power Community in the nation.

The Opportunity Council is a private, non–profit community action agency that acts as a catalyst for positive change, both in the community and in the lives of the people it serves. The organization offers a broad scope of services that range from addressing immediate and crisis-oriented needs to longer-term programs that promote self-sufficiency in our community.