REEA Single Family Award: Tornado Assistance Program

On February 29, 2012, tornadoes ripped through the southern tip of Illinois, taking seven lives and leaving millions of dollars in property damage in their wake. To help those in need, Governor Pat Quinn requested federal disaster aid for the five counties hit hardest by the 170 mile per hour winds. But the Federal Emergency Management Agency denied his request, saying that assistance from state and local agencies, along with volunteer groups and private insurance, would be enough.

It would have to be.

With no relief coming, the state of Illinois allocated $1.6 million from its $3 million Energy Efficiency Trust Fund. To distribute the funds fairly, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (IDCEO) called on Ameren Illinois, an electric utility serving most of the state, and the Tornado Assistance Program (TAP) was born.

The Energy Efficiency Trust Fund supports renewable energy and residential energy efficiency, so those measures were given top priority when assessing damaged homes. If an energy-efficient improvement could be installed, it would—even if a non-energy-efficient repair was necessary to allow it.

Naturally, Ameren’s residential energy efficiency program, Act On Energy, took the lead. In partnership with Conservation Services Group (CSG), which provides energy efficiency programs and services, it was tasked with getting the message out to all tornado victims in need: the TAP program was available to help. CSG and Ameren also processed applications and conducted inspections and homeowner interviews to verify which program measures homes were eligible for.

“Ameren Illinois really stepped up on this program,” said CSG regional vice president Larry Brown. “IDCEO contacted Ameren to let them know that grant funds would be available to assist folks in need. Ameren did not hesitate. They contacted me and asked CSG to propose a program designed to make sure that these funds went to make the repaired homes more energy efficient, knowing that proper insulation, air sealing, and other efficient practices make homes more comfortable and durable for years to come.”

In roughly a year, TAP was able to rebuild or repair 166 homes, incorporating energy efficiency into almost all of them. On average, ActOnEnergy invested more than $9,000 per home to help 42 homeowners rebuild, and more than $7,700 per home to help another 124 homeowners make repairs. The rebuild projects will save homeowners an estimated $193 every year in energy costs, and the home repair projects will provide recurring annual savings of more than $230. Altogether, the energy efficiency improvements made possible by TAP will create long-term savings of more than 1.6 million kilowatt-hours.

Beyond that, TAP gave local contractors a boost in business, paved the way for job creation and renewed economic vitality in the area, and exposed area residents and businesses to the value of energy efficiency.