Musings on the Year Gone By (2021)

From the Desk of the Executive Director

Reflecting on the majority of the year gone by, I’m cautiously optimistic about the new year. As society continues gaining tools to fight COVID-19, LEAP continues implementing new policies and programming to fight climate change and the excessive energy burden facing low-income households. In 2021, LEAP made significant progress on both of the latter challenges, and I suspect 2022 could be another year of significant growth.

Reminiscing on our weatherization and low-income energy-efficiency work first, LEAP was able to start the year making investments to grow its team and add necessary equipment in order to serve more low-income households, thanks to a catalytic grant offered by the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation (CACF). That, combined with a significant grant from Dominion Energy Virginia’s EnergyShare program, resulted in an additional 88 low-income households being assisted throughout the year. Midway through the year, anonymous donors provided another set of grants to further expand our weatherization crews, which led to a 50% increase in service capacity. In the last 6 months of the year, LEAP will have served nearly 350 low-income households. This work throughout the state, valued at nearly $1,000,000, will likely save recipients an average of 20% on their energy bills moving forward.

One of my favorite projects of ours this year was an electrification pilot for low-income households in conjunction with the Community Climate Collaborative (C3). The pilot assisted 8 low-income households in electrifying their homes, including combinations of heating/cooling systems, hot water heating, stoves, and in one case, a gas clothes dryer. The most drastic energy bill and greenhouse gas savings were generated from the homes switched from using fuel oil for home heating to high-efficiency electric heat pumps. Electrification paired with additional insulation and air sealing (the most impactful energy-saving measures in most cases) are among the key strategies needed to mitigate climate change – ensuring low-income households benefit AND are not put at a disadvantage will be key during policy and strategy planning discussions. We will use the lessons learned from this pilot going forward, and have crafted a new Beneficial Electrification policy to guide our work.

Last but not least, LEAP’s solar work really accelerated this year. Our Solarize program expanded into two new markets—Greater Roanoke and Richmond—and the number of contracts signed increased by almost 80%; that is nearly 1.88MW of new solar in Virginia. As a part of our Solarize program, LEAP successfully intervened in two cases to assist homeowners whose requests to install solar were rejected by their HOAs. They are both now enjoying their new solar panels and lower electricity bills! Our excitement over the growth of rooftop solar is only topped by the potential that low-income households will soon be able to join the clean energy movement. Community solar is on the horizon, and by mid-2023 will be available to all Dominion customers in Virginia. LEAP will be your go-to resource to learn more about community solar, and to sign up to get your energy from a community solar project. This will mean lower electricity bills for low-income households, and cleaner energy for all.

As I look back at the year, I’m extremely proud of what our team at LEAP has accomplished and the help we provided to so many low-income households. We are well positioned to further increase the number of households we serve while adding new services that further reduce energy bills/housing costs AND combating climate change in 2022. Thank you for coming along for the ride with us this year. I hope you continue with us through 2022 in any form you can!

Chris Meyer, Executive Director of LEAP

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