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Belmont Light rolls out program to help customers adopt air source heating systems

November 30, 2020

by Paul Ciampoli
APPA News Director
November 30, 2020

Belmont Light in Massachusetts has launched an education and marketing program aimed at providing customers with the information they need to install air-source heat pumps.

Belmont Light’s CleanComfort program, which is being administered by Adobe Energy Management, connects customers with expert research and guidance throughout the installation process, as well as available rebates.

“Our overall goal is strategic electrification,” Ben Thivierge, energy specialist at the public power utility, said. The town of Belmont adopted a climate action plan last year that calls for an 80% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. Belmont Light was involved with that plan and as part of it, “we need to do electrification and fuel switching. A lot of customers felt that heat pumps would be a good way to do that,” Thivierge said.

“Air-source heat pumps play an integral role in our plan to help the Town of Belmont reduce its carbon emissions,” Craig Spinale, Belmont Light’s general manager, said in a statement. “The CleanComfort program gives us an incredibly useful way to move toward those goals while also being able to offer cost savings and increased comfort to our customers.”

Belmont Light offers customers rebates of between $650 and $2,000, depending on size of the heat pump system they install. Rebates of up to $1,500 are also available for homeowners who completely replace fossil fuel systems with heat pumps.

Air-source heat pumps are ducted or ductless systems – sometimes referred to as mini-splits systems – that are able to heat and cool homes more efficiently than systems that use fuel oil. According to the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships, homeowners can save up to $948 per year when replacing an existing fuel oil system with an air-source heat pump.

About 75% of Belmont Light’s customers use natural gas for heating. For them, the cost of switching to an air source heat pump would save them a little bit of money or be about equal in costs, while customers who use fuel oil or propane for heating would likely see lower costs, Thivierge said. However, customer feedback indicates that about half the customers who switch to air source heating do so for environmental reasons more than monetary reasons, he said.

Through the CleanComfort program, Abode Energy Management will provide a heat pump specialist to talk directly with Belmont Light customers. “Because the systems are highly customizable, it can be difficult to compare quotes and system designs,” Travis Estes, COO of Abode, said in a statement. “The heat pump specialist will help Belmont Light customers navigate the entire process and ensure installations are completed with the utmost quality at a fair price.”

Belmont Light sees the CleanComfort program as a follow up to its HeatSmart Belmont program, a similar education campaign that resulted in the installation of over 40 air source heat pump systems in Belmont homes in 2019.

The new program is also slightly different than the previous program in that customers have the opportunity to work with an expert energy consultant to verify that air source systems are sized correctly. “It helps us make sure the money is well spent and customers will not see their electric bills skyrocket,” Thivierge said.

The HeatSmart program had support of a state grant. For the new program, Belmont Light is bearing the costs by tapping the utility’s energy efficiency funds. “We view the program as a net benefit,” Thivierge said. The education piece of the program is important because “we want to be sure customers are comfortable with the changes in the technology, and we want customers to view us as a trusted energy adviser.”

Air source heat pumps have been around for a long time, but recent changes, particularly to some control components, have made the systems more efficient and reliable and better suited for colder climates.

In setting up the CleanComfort program, Belmont Light also met with other public power utilities – knowns as municipal light plants in Massachusetts – to come up with unified branding for the program. Thivierge said he knows of four other utilities that are using the program and have rolled it out in the past month or so.

Looking forward, Belmont Light is considering expanding its heat pump program. Based on customer feedback, Thivierge said the utility is looking at setting up rebates for customers who already have installed air source heat pumps and want to expand their systems to replace their existing fossil fuel heating systems.

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