Urban Land Conservancy celebrates the achievements of our partnerships that create and preserve nonprofit facilities and affordable housing for communities in metro Denver. ULC’s Monthly Partner Spotlight is awarded to partners who demonstrate the value of collaboration, furthering our mission to improve the lives of Metro Denver residents through our real estate investments and community assets.

Congratulations to our November 2018 Partner Spotlight of the Month: Energy Resource Center!

Energy Resource Center logo

Energy Resource Center (ERC) is a Colorado-based nonprofit that provides free weatherization services to income qualifying families and individuals. These services increase energy efficiency of the home, subsequently lowering monthly utility bills. Founded in 1979 and headquartered in Colorado Springs, ERC now has four brick and mortar locations serving residents in more than 20 counties across the state. According to the nonprofit, a large percentage of homes in the United States are in critical need of improved weatherization, as older homes lack adequate insulation and use outdated appliances. ERC reports that 44% of homes in the U.S. were built before 1970, and traditionally have significantly higher utility expenditures than new homes.

While most households spend an average of 4 percent or less of their income on household energy, low-income families spend a staggering 17 – 50 percent. According to the nonprofit, ERC is, “invested in the work and the people we are helping to improve the lives of, while creating a more energy efficient way of life. We help reduce the energy burden for vulnerable families. We do not pay utility bills –we help to lower them.”

ERC ran its weatherization services in Colorado Springs for over 30 years before expanding to the San Luis Valley in 2010. In 2014, ERC opened a branch in Denver in ULC’s Social Enterprise Foundry, serving homeowners and renters in Denver and Jefferson counties. ERC’s most recent expansion occurred just this year when the organization opened its doors in Loveland, CO to serve the Northern Front Range. Each expansion occurred because the state of Colorado approached ERC asking for their assistance and expertise in the field.

An ERC crew members providing weatherization services to a Colorado home. Photo Courtesy | Energy Resource Center
An ERC crew members providing weatherization services to a Colorado home. Photo Courtesy | Energy Resource Center

Aaron Martinez, the Deputy Executive Director at Energy Resource Center, joined the organization after working for Longs Peak Energy Conservation in Boulder County. Martinez has worked with ERC for nearly four years now, and speaks highly of his organization’s status as an industry leader in energy efficiency and beyond.

“We are essentially a nonprofit construction company, with a specific goal of increasing energy efficiency,” Martinez explained. “There are a lot of people who need this work, and it is not solely low-income households. We can offer our services at a competitive rate to the general market as well, and we really are the best in our field because we bring a high level of professionalism and attention to quality.”

Martinez is referring to ERC’s “Pay-it-Forward” programming, which helps fund the nonprofit organization. According to Martinez, 100% of the profits from customers taking the pay-it-forward approach are invested back into the nonprofit to fully fund weatherization improvements for low-income families. ERC reports customers save up to 30% directly following energy assessments and upgrades. This program allows Coloradoans to make a difference in more ways than one. By paying for ERC’s energy efficiency services, users are saving money, reducing energy consumption, improving the health of their community and directly supporting their low-income neighbors to do the same.

The Pay-it-Forward program is a crucial source of funding for the organization, as it allows ERC to diversify their revenue base. Martinez explained that the program has seen dramatic fluctuation over the past decade. 10 years ago, ERC was 95% dependent on federal grants, which totaled about $20 million per year for the entire state of Colorado. That funding expanded to more than $50 million per year during the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Then, in 2012, statewide funding dropped to less than $10 million. This uncertainty in funding mandated that organizations like ERC diversify revenue streams in order to maintain the infrastructure and capacity that was built during ARRA. Through programs like “Pay-it-Forward” and others, ERC has avoided layoffs and reduced its dependence on federal grants to less than 60%. “While funding sources may fluctuate, the need is not going away any time soon,” says Martinez.

ERC’s Denver branch is in ULC’s Social Enterprise Foundry in the Sun Valley neighborhood. The centrally located warehouse and office space not only allows ERC to better access residents throughout the Greater Denver region, but also save money on rental costs. In alignment with ULC’s mission to create and preserve real estate in low-income neighborhoods for long-term community benefit, ULC preserved the 44,000 sq. ft. Social Enterprise Foundry in in 2014. Today, the Foundry provides affordable, quality warehouse and office space for four mission-minded organizations well below market rate.

Inside the warehouse at ULC's Social Enterprise Foundry in the Sun Valley neighborhood. Photo courtesy | Urban Land Conservancy
Inside the warehouse at ULC's Social Enterprise Foundry in the Sun Valley neighborhood. Photo courtesy | Urban Land Conservancy

“We could not afford to have any space in central Denver were it not for ULC and the Foundry,” Martinez explained. “The affordable price we pay for space in Denver could not be duplicated anywhere and it allows us to efficiently serve our clients.”

ULC is continuously impressed by the mission and dedication of Energy Resource Center and its staff. Many low-income households throughout Colorado saw an average reduction of $713 in their annual utility bill last year. If you are interested in applying for ERC’s free energy efficiency evaluations and upgrades, visit the link here: (https://www.erc-co.org/free-weatherization/) If you are interested in donating to their cause ($100 buys 20 LED light bulbs!) visit their website here. https://www.erc-co.org/how-you-can-help/

“Part of ULC’s mission is to create affordable real estate for nonprofits to then provide services to individuals and families in Metro Denver, and we are proud to support the work of ERC in this way,” said Aaron Miripol, ULC’s President & CEO. “Working with ERC as both a tenant and partner has positively impacted so many households in addition to tenants in other ULC buildings, directly reducing expenses and further allowing ULC to provide affordable rent for our nonprofit tenants. We look forward to continued growth and impact in our partnership with ERC.”