Supporting Underserved Communities Through the CARES Act

In March 2021, we received funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to carry out two projects in support of underserved communities in North Carolina. One provided higher-efficiency mechanical and water heating equipment to nonprofit supportive housing organizations, and the other installed high-efficiency air-source heat pump (ASHP) systems in residential homes. Both focused on low-income customers with historically high utility bills.

To support this effort, we partnered with North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives and a few of their member cooperatives, along with the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency (NCHFA). We have a long history — dating back to 1980 — of working with North Carolina’s electric cooperatives, and we have collaborated with NCHFA for more than two decades.

NCHFA’s Supportive Housing Development Program (SHDP) helps nonprofit organizations and local governments build and rehabilitate emergency and permanent housing for people who are experiencing homelessness and have disabilities or other needs, such as substance use recovery. In 2020, we revisited a women’s shelter supportive housing project that we had worked on several years prior. Our goal was to understand how the facility uses energy. In result, we discovered ongoing issues with the shelter’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system, which led us to question how we could optimize building energy use for the shelter and others like it.

CARES Act Summary

The CARES Act grant provided the opportunity to further explore how we could help underserved communities and organizations in North Carolina. We worked with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality to create a strategy and set the following objectives: support low-income organizations by replacing inefficient systems and reducing total energy costs, educate supportive housing organizations on energy efficiency opportunities and install high-efficiency systems.

In our supportive housing project, we partnered with the SHDP to identify qualifying organizations. These organizations assist populations that are at or below the poverty level and earn less than 50 percent of the area median income. Examples include housing for substance abuse treatment, transitional housing for homeless individuals, housing for domestic violence survivors, and housing for people with disabilities and other disadvantages.

In our effort concentrating on heat pump systems in low-income homes, we allied with electric cooperatives to find qualified participants. Populations served included older adults, minority groups and disadvantaged households in eight Tier 1 counties based on the County Distress Rankings from the North Carolina Department of Commerce.

Impact

The response to the initiatives surpassed our expectations. NCHFA provided a list of 177 SHDP projects that consisted of small commercial buildings, multifamily apartments and single-family homes. After reaching out to this group, we received 13 applications across North Carolina that requested around 170 HVAC changeouts and 170 water heater changeouts. We initially estimated that the grant funds could service up to 25 changeouts. However, we ended up completing 56 — 34 water heaters, 19 ASHP systems and 3 packaged terminal heat pumps — across seven organizations. The predicted total annual savings for these systems exceed $8,000.

For the low-income homes project, we replaced heating and cooling equipment in 41 residences to help reduce occupants’ energy burden and improve their comfort. These homes are predicted to save more than $30,000 combined annually.

We are proud of the work we all accomplished on these CARES Act projects, particularly given the short time frame in which they needed to be completed, and appreciated the opportunity. We hope to continue serving these communities in the future. With additional funding, we could reach more families and organizations like those we worked with in 2021, and further explore ways to improve efficiency.