Energy efficiency efforts in Chicago set to expand

LUCHA's home buyer workshop
Latin United Community Housing Association holds workshops for people to learn about purchasing good homes and adopting energy efficiency programs in the Chicago area.

By Yu-Ning Aileen Chuang

Ramiro Amirez, 32, went to a workshop recently with his wife Olivia and their fourth baby. They are hoping to buy a new home within their budget.

Although seeking a place with a decent price is important, saving money as much as they can is also crucial. That’s why energy efficiency programs appealed to them.

“The workshop is really helpful because there’s just too much information out there,” said Amirez, adding his satisfaction with Latin United Community Housing Association’s (LUCHA) home buyer workshop that offers resources for budgeting, including saving money on energy bills.

Many local organizations in Chicago have been providing energy efficiency measures to the public as part of the efforts to help people save money, and finally to be able to buy a house. Three major groups in Latino communities – LUCHA, Hispanic Housing Development Corporation and the Resurrection Project – are now partnering with ComEd, Illinois’ largest electric utility, to engage people in energy efficiency programs.

Spread the words out

“I’ve been contributing to every workshop [that] we have with information about energy efficiency because it’s something people can do even before they buy a house,” said Guillermina Leon, the workshop coordinator and a housing counseling specialist with LUCHA.

LUCHA, founded by residents of Humboldt Park, West Town and Logan Square in 1982, is an NGO that has helped more than 68,000 low-to-moderate income families rent or purchase affordable housing and make their homes more energy efficient, according to its website.

By leveraging the local groups’ network, ComEd plans to connect with their affordable housing units, encourage residents to sign up for energy assessments, provide rebates for efficient appliances and discounts on LED lighting and others, the company said on launching its community-focused energy efficiency initiative last month.

Dilia Camacho-Saeedi, the vice president of property management at Hispanic Housing Development, said that it’s natural for affordable housings to start saving energy because that benefits the company’s customers and communities as a whole.

Hispanic Housing Development manages about 38,000 units, which compose around 9,000 residents, throughout the Chicago area, said company president and CEO Hipolito Roldán.

“We smile every time the sun comes out not only because the things are growing, but because the meter is rolling, and that’s when we know we have our largest savings,” Roldán said, referring to the 24 solar panels installed in one of its properties, Las Moradas Senior Living Facility.

In addition to financial benefits, the 40-year-old company has been trying to engage local residents in the “global environmental movement,” Roldán said, in which sees climate change as one of the most serious problems facing the planet today.

“Getting people to understand that their behavior can save the planet is really sort of a global thing,” he said. “But when you are talking about things that would affect your grandchildren and their future, it becomes emotional. It becomes something that is related to passion. That’s what we are hoping for.”

Democratize energy knowledge

“With this unique community initiative, ComEd will be democratizing energy knowledge and resources to create a more sustainable Chicago, increase local employment and entrepreneurship around energy and sustainable infrastructure,” Roldán said.

What’s more important may be to see what works in the Latino communities and serves as a model in the future.

“The intent is really to expand to other diverse communities, and understand how they learn, how to educate them so they can be part of these energy efficiency programs,” said ComEd director of regulatory affairs Martín Montes.

ComEd launched its energy efficiency programs in 2008, which, according to the company, has saved over $2 billion in residential and business customers’ energy bills and helped to eliminate 21.6 billion pounds of CO2 emissions from the atmosphere.

Look into the future

In its pilot phase, the community-focused energy efficiency initiative is expected to report results after six or 12 months, the utility said.

“The most exciting part about this particular targeted approach is that it will be measurable,” said Illinois Commerce Commission commissioner Miguel del Valle.

Smart meters at consumers’ homes would allow ComEd to observe the real-time energy conservation activities and calculate the actual savings on a regular basis.

“The evaluation component is extremely important. Without it, you can talk all you want but you got to show actual numbers,” del Valle said, adding that he hopes the initiative can expand to other communities to educate the public about energy efficiency and the modernization of energy usage.

“I don’t get tired of saying this – you are paying for it,” said del Valle, adding that taxpayers and ratepayers are paying for the grid modernization and energy efficiency activities because promoting energy efficiency is stated in the state’s law.

In Illinois, over $600 million is spent to develop, promote and implement energy efficiency measures in order to comply with the state law, del Valle said. Programs that run by utilities like ComEd are part of the efforts.

Photo at top: Latin United Community Housing Association holds workshops regularly to empower people to purchase good homes and adopt energy efficiency programs in Chicago. (Yu-Ning Aileen Chuang/MEDILL)