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Massachusetts residents and businesses can lower their energy costs and reduce emissions through Mass Save, a partnership run by electric and gas utility companies in conjunction with the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources.

Winter still has the Berkshires in its grips, meaning that residents and businesses will face some additional weeks of more costly energy bills.

But, a Massachusetts energy efficiency initiative offers them an opportunity to lower energy costs and reduce emissions.

Through the Mass Save partnership, electric and gas utility companies work with the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources to offer energy-efficiency improvements.

After getting a home assessment, which can be done virtually, participants receive recommendations for weatherization, lighting and more. Rebates and incentives are available, including to low- or moderate-income residents. Mass Save defines low income as 60 percent of the state median or lower, and moderate income is set at 60 to 80 percent of the median.

Following are some questions and answers about Mass Save compiled by The Eagle from interviews.

Who is eligible?

All electric and gas customers in the state, except those served by municipal light and power plants, can use Mass Save. Renters are eligible, but any changes to a building require the property owner’s permission.

How can someone get started?

The process starts with a no-cost energy assessment, which can be scheduled by calling 866-527-7283 and can be done virtually. Also, people can take an assessment at tinyurl.com/94aodyja.

Going through a home performance contractor can sometimes speed up the process, says Rosemary Wessel, director of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team’s Energy Efficiency Pittsfield and No Fracked Gas in Mass initiatives. Berkshire Gas customers can use the Center for EcoTechnology (413-586-7350; centerforecotechnology.org), and all other customers can go through HomeWorks Energy (781-305-3319; host.homeworksenergy.com), Energia (413-322-3111, energiaus.com) or Green Collar (413-409-6816, greencollarma.com).

How is Mass Save funded?

Electric and gas customers pay an energy-efficiency surcharge on each bill.

For electric customers, the payment is about 2 cents per kilowatt-hour. Berkshire Gas includes a distribution adjustment charge of 27.78 cents per therm to cover energy efficiency, environmental and industry-specific programs. About 11 percent of Mass Save’s funding also typically comes from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative’s carbon dioxide allowance auction proceeds.

What incentive do utility companies have to run Mass Save?

In Massachusetts, utility companies’ earnings are “decoupled” from how much energy they sell to consumers. Mass Save is state mandated, and utility companies earn a financial incentive if they spend the full money available, Berkshire Gas representatives said.

How widely is Mass Save used?

Mass Save has a 2021 budget of about $936 million, and about $665 million, or 70 percent, goes to consumers as incentives, said Eversource spokesperson Priscilla Ress.

As of the third quarter of 2020, the latest term for which data was available on the Mass Save website, there were 5,811,520 electric participants through the residential program, 11,682 through the income-eligible program, and 21,855 through the commercial and industrial program. For gas, there were 682,795 residential, 10,221 income-eligible, and 5,586 commercial and industrial participants.

Participation and awareness vary across demographics. A February 2020 study found that people who rent their home, speak a language other than English at home or self-report as low income were less likely to participate.

How is Mass Save seeking to increase awareness?

Pittsfield was one of seven municipalities included in Mass Save’s 2020 municipal partnership program. Energy Efficiency Pittsfield worked in collaboration with Berkshire Gas and the Center for EcoTechnology to conduct outreach in Pittsfield’s Morningside and West Side neighborhoods.

Most people were interested in signing up after learning more about Mass Save, Wessel said. From January to October, the partnership led to 152 electric and 128 gas heating and cooling upgrades, as well as 39 electric upgrades and three gas upgrades among small businesses, said Lorenzo Macaluso, director of client services for the Center for EcoTechnology.

Mass Save also has expanded translation capacities, and Berkshire Gas previously has attended local events to spread the word, said Liz Murphy, a conservation and load management supervisor for Avangrid, the parent company of Berkshire Gas. Eversource’s outreach includes partnering with schools on energy education, and it has participated in the Main Streets program to reach small businesses, Ress said.

What doesn’t Mass Save do?

While improving energy efficiency helps people save money and reduce emissions, Mass Save stops short of moving people away from fossil fuel-based electricity and gas.

“Up to this point we’ve incentivized people to get more efficient gas furnaces,” said Environment Massachusetts Executive Director Ben Hellerstein, who said the state needs to “scale up” its work retrofitting homes, as well as to fund programs that allow people to switch to clean energy.

Two programs, Solarize and HeatSmart, previously gave buyers reduced rates to switch to clean energy. But, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, which has faced a funding shortfall in recent years, said it would not offer money for those programs this year.

How is Mass Save planned?

Every three years, the Department of Energy Resources releases a Three-Year Plan that guides Mass Save. The process involves input from utility companies, the Massachusetts Energy Efficiency Advisory Council and members of the public.

Part of the plan will include continued outreach to underserved and hard-to-reach customers, said Sheri Borelli, who works on energy efficiency for Avangrid.

But, Wessel has questioned the role that utility companies play in the plan.

“We’d love to see it switch to a state-run program instead of a for-profit utility-run,” she said. “I think people should participate in it, but I also think there needs to be some systemic change. We’re very beholden to the utility companies in this state, and it really shows.”

How are other initiatives drawing inspiration from Mass Save?

A legislative proposal, sponsored by State Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, and state Rep. Maria Robinson, D-Framingham, would require the state to study whether Mass Save-esque incentives could cover electric vehicles and charging equipment.

“We’ve seen that Mass Save has been really helpful for individualizing how people can contribute to confronting climate change and emissions at the level of the home and energy in buildings,” Hinds said. “It feels like the next place to focus our attention is the transportation space and the individual choices and purchases that people are making.”

Danny Jin, a Report for America corps member, is The Eagle’s Statehouse news reporter. He can be reached at djin@berkshireeagle.com, @djinreports on Twitter and 413-496-6221.