Easterseals school gets major energy efficiency upgrades, thanks to NHSaves program
A residential school in Manchester serving some of the state’s most vulnerable youth is reaping the benefits of free-of-charge energy efficiency upgrades, in more ways than one.
A partnership between Easterseals’ Gammon Academy and two of the state’s utility companies recently brought environmental and cost-saving improvements to a facility aiding youth with complex needs, such as developmental disabilities and mental health challenges, that can’t be met within the family home.
The effort was made possible by NHSaves, a collaboration of the state’s electric and natural gas utilities that provides consumers with information, incentives, and rebates to save energy and reduce spending.
Through Liberty Utilities, Easterseals was able to add 27,300 square feet of insulation and air-seal all plumbing and wire openings at the academy. Eversource helped switch out all the old lighting fixtures for LEDs.
“Being able to quickly identify this and get this shot in the arm, over $150,000 in insulation upgrades and $180,000 in lighting upgrades all at once, was just extraordinary,” said Jason Teaster, vice president of facilities for Easterseals.
Teaster estimated the building’s lighting load was slashed in half immediately, and thousands of dollars in heat and cooling savings will be seen annually as a result of the insulation.
Energy efficiency programs are designed to help people use less energy, said Matthew Minghella, residential program manager for Liberty Utilities in New Hampshire, whether it’s heating, cooling, or running electronics and appliances.
The partnership with Easterseals, he said, “demonstrates there are real opportunities for these kinds of projects to exist and help our customers with affordable solutions.”
The Gammon Academy project is about more than cutting utility costs. At the residential school with roughly 120 students between ages 5 and 21, many tend to be hypersensitive to sensory input, said John Soucy, Easterseals’ senior vice president of children’s services. That means how their clothes feel, the temperature of a room, or particular lighting can cause disruption and irritability.
“This insulation project really helped the building feel much more consistent for them,” Soucy said. “We might not notice that change, but some of them certainly could.”
Gammon Academy also employs around 250 staff members, and Soucy noted the upgrades will create an overall more comfortable environment for everyone on site.
State energy efficiency programs have taken the hot seat
New Hampshire ratepayers partially fund the state’s energy efficiency programs via a surcharge on their monthly utility bills. Other sources of funding include auction proceeds from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and proceeds obtained from participation in regional grid operator ISO New England’s forward capacity market.
Between 2018 and 2020, the NHSaves program created $579,672,531 in benefits, according to a program highlights report, and for every $1 invested in energy efficiency, $3.37 in benefits was generated.
Energy efficiency funding has taken the hot seat in recent years. In 2021, the state’s Public Utilities Commission approved a plan to slash NHSaves’ funding down to 2017 levels. Following an outcry, the Legislature passed an emergency bill to override the decision and restore the dollars.
In January, the PUC appeared to take aim again at energy efficiency programs through a report that seemed to cast doubts on how the state assesses its energy efficiency investments. The PUC alluded to more conservative assessment models, in the context of a 144 percent increase in investments in recent years.
While commissioners said the report was a “fact-finding analysis,” some felt the PUC overstepped its authority and could possibly enter future regulatory proceedings with a bias.
Teaster said Easterseals could “absolutely not” have accomplished an energy efficiency project of such magnitude and coordination without the assistance and expertise of NHSaves.
“Yes, we can piecemeal it all day long and we do capital planning every year,” he said, “but we’re a nonprofit and we do our best to make sure our dollars stretch as far as they can.”
Because of the project, Gammon Academy’s students and staff will benefit from an improved indoor environment for years to come, all while the nonprofit saves money.
Teaster credited Concord-based partner Resilient Buildings Group with “connecting the dots” and guiding Easterseals to the NHSaves opportunities, and he expects the organization will take advantage of the program again in future projects.