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Mar 20, 2023

Superior Watershed Partnership Offers Free Home Energy Scores to Income-Qualified Upper Peninsula of Michigan Households

Department of Energy Home Energy Score reduces energy consumption and energy bills in income-qualified households.

By: Tonya Swenor

man standing in front of truck smiling

Superior Watershed Partnership (SWP) is a nonprofit located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Our mission includes protecting the Great Lakes, Assisting Communities and Helping people. We operate out of two offices, the SWP and the SWP Energy & Climate Office. The SWP Energy & Climate office administers the Michigan Energy Assistance Program (MEAP) where we work with income-qualified residents to assist with energy bill payments, energy education, energy assessments, limited weatherization, utility referrals and residential solar installation.

The Problem 

With inflation and winter’s chill causing skyrocketing utility bills, many Upper Peninsula residents are struggling to manage costs.

The Solution

In this day and age, utility access is not a privilege. It is a basic human need. Until we can bridge income gaps and inequity of access, programs like ours are essential to preserve human life and human dignity, and that understanding informs our every interaction with our clients.

Our MEAP is a “one-stop shop,” where clients can come to receive energy assistance, to learn about their energy use and needs, for guidance with SER applications, for empathy and affirmation, for home weatherization, and for referrals to other services outside the parameters of our program. This multi-functionality builds relationships and trust, through multiple and varied positive interactions, time after time.

Energy efficiency services could be considered the culmination of the SWP’s model. Using the Home Energy Score (HES) system, a tool developed by the U.S. Department of Energy, the Energy Technician team can pinpoint where a house loses energy, as well as other health and safety issues, and offers a suite of home improvements. Most importantly, these services are available for free to qualifying households.

If customers are approved for State Emergency Relief through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, technicians can return to provide home energy improvements including insulation, draft sealing, pipe wrapping, and other specialized services customized to each household’s needs.

Utilizing MEAP funding, the SWP assists Upper Peninsula residents in energy crisis, and also offers affordable payment plans and energy security planning, including personalized energy education and financial counseling. For the past decade, the SWP Energy and Climate Office has used this model to help thousands of households manage difficult bills. However, the years have shown that working with customers in their homes is sometimes the only way to mitigate factors causing consistently high bills.

The SWP has established collaborations with utility partners offering energy waste reduction (EWR) services.  These relationships allow the SWP to work directly with the utility or the utility implementor to offer direct referrals based on the HES report.  This works because the SWP MEAP team has formed long-term relationships with the clients.  With detailed referrals including the HES report, photos and income verification it helps the utility or implementor meet their program goals.  It makes sense, we are already in their home, why not provide referrals for services our client desperately need. It’s all a part of our “one stop shop” approach.


From 2020 -2022, the SWP has conducted 446 HES’s with 76 re-scores after weatherization and 13 re-scores after solar installation.  The average HES is 4 and the average score after re-score is +1. Currently, the MEAP offers limited weatherization services averaging $600 per household.  The SWP continues to seek other grant opportunities to increase weatherization services and help more income-qualified households.

Tonya Swenor will be presenting on this article topic at the 2023 National Home Performance Conference & Trade Show taking place April 17-20 in Seattle, WA. Learn more about her session here.

Tonya Swenor

A leader and advocate for low-income residents of the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan, Tonya Swenor started at the Superior Watershed Partnership (SWP) in 2011, and has since has led conservation programs including the Better Buildings for Michigan, Michigan Energy Assistance Program (MEAP) and the Tribal Youth Conservation Corps. She has been an active member of several state-wide and local workgroups and partnerships focused on collaboration. In 2021, Tonya was invited by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer to join the UP Energy Task Force. Tonya manages the SWP Michigan Energy Assistance Program (MEAP), which has provided energy assistance and self-sufficiency services to over 4,000 eligible low-income households.

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