ABAG and BayREN: a Regional Model for Energy Efficiency

Whether it’s offering rebates for energy-efficient upgrades or creating maps that reveal where energy use is highest, the Bay Area Regional Energy Network (BayREN) is playing a crucial role in helping cities, counties, and residents in the Bay Area increase energy efficiency and save money.

The BayREN program is a whole portfolio of services offered by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) with the nine area counties. As the name suggests, BayREN operates as a network of the San Francisco Bay Area’s cities and counties.  It provides the typical council of government function of knitting together and augmenting the expertise of local governments.  But in this case the service is to provide money-saving energy efficiency measures to Bay Area residents and businesses.

Filling Service Gaps

The role of a Regional Energy Network (there are three—soon to be four—in the state) is to fill service gaps not undertaken by investor-owned utilities (IOUs). The program focuses on “hard to reach” customers (by language, income, and geography).

With an annual budget of $24 million, BayREN draws on the expertise, experience, and track records of local governments to create and administer a range of energy- and water-efficiency programs.  To date, BayREN’s programs have saved money and resources for Bay Area residents and businesses by providing:

  • Financing and Rebates that offer incentives for a range of energy efficiency upgrades to single- and multi-family buildings. BayREN’s services for businesses include micro-loans with zero interest for installation of energy-saving appliances.
  • Education and Training that includes access to free energy advisors who can help identify energy saving opportunities in single-family homes and multi-family buildings. Other trainings and tools help keep city and county staff abreast of the ever-evolving codes and standards governing energy efficiency. BayREN also gears education for Realtors to help build knowledge about the benefits of energy efficient homes.
  • Workforce development that helps ensure enough people are trained to enter the fast-growing field of green energy. In partnership with the Rising Sun Energy Center, BayREN offers job training that teaches young people to make “green house calls,” offering personalized recommendations for savings and helping install new equipment to help lower energy- and water-use.

As with all energy networks in California, BayREN’s programs must have the potential to scale energy savings geographically, yet offer tailored services to fit the needs of individual communities.

“We offer economies of scale for jurisdictions across our entire region, but the outreach is localized,” said Jenny Berg, Manager of BayREN. “What works in Napa may not work in Santa Clara County. It’s the same program, but the approach can vary depending on the place.”

Noble Towers Case Study

Noble Towers provides senior affordable housing in Oakland. The building had a deteriorating boiler and an antiquated system that mixed hot and cold water.  Under BayREN’s multifamily building enhancements program,  the property owner received free consulting and a $750-per-unit rebate for upgrades.  Energy use decreased by 18 percent, reducing residents’ utility bills.

Since 2014, BayREN has issued $19 million in rebates to improve 26,000 units on 380 properties, saving nearly 850,000 therms of gas and 11.7 million kilowatt hours of electricity.

How It Works & Funding

Bay REN, and its sister energy networks, are primarily funded by California utility ratepayers through the Public Goods charge levied on regular bills by investor-owned utilities (IOU). Those charges are then administered by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to fill the gaps in activities that investor-owned utilities cannot or do not intend to undertake.

For about the past decade, ABAG has partnered with the nine Bay Area counties to become the Bay Area Regional Energy Network, known as BayREN for short.  They receive more than $20 million a year from the CPUC to fund rebates, educational efforts, and other programs, with additional funds comes from member agencies, state and federal agencies, and foundations.

The program is implemented through a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between ABAG and its nine Bay Area counties. Each member agency designates a voting member to a “Coordinating Circle,” which makes decisions over all policy, high-level programmatic issues, and budgets.  BayREN staff also report directly to the ABAG board and county boards.

New “Energy Atlas” Supports Climate Action Planning

BayREN’s latest innovation is a first-of-its kind energy use tracker called the Energy Atlas. Developed in partnership with the California Center for Sustainable Communities at UCLA, the Atlas is an interactive map that allows planners and residents to compare five years’ worth of electricity and natural gas usage from the county level down to specific census tracts. It can show success stories and hot spots, allowing cities to target energy-efficiency strategies.

“We see the Atlas as a really important tool for putting information about energy use directly into the hands of people and local governments,” said Berg.

Building off PG&E-sourced data, the Atlas allows users to delve into energy use based on geography, residential income levels and building type, size and age. It can help local governments with climate action planning by answering questions such as:

  • How does energy consumption vary by density, income level, or industry?
  • What types of buildings have the highest energy intensity per square foot?
  • How does energy consumption compare between single-family and multi-family homes in different parts of the region?

Another Regional Network Rises

Taking a page from ABAG’s playbook, three CALCOG members—the Western Riverside Council of Governments (WRCOG), with the Coachella Valley Association of Governments (CVAG), and the San Bernardino Council of Governments (SBCOG)—submitted an application (technically, a business plan) to the CPUC to create the Inland Regional Energy Network, or (I-REN) in February this year.

With a proposed $10 million budget request, I-REN would serve 52 cities and two counties in an area the size of South Carolina (26,000 square miles). The proposed I-REN would help to increase energy efficiency through programs and projects that target education, rebates, trainings, tools and workforce development.

“We felt it was important to have a REN that was crafted specifically for Inland communities – our climate zones, our mix of urban, rural and frontier areas,” said Casey Dailey, Director of Energy and Environment Programs at WRCOG. “There is an opportunity to come together and be more efficient about helping many of our hard-to-reach places.”

The CPUC is expected to make a decision on I-REN by the end of 2021, Dailey said.

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