Energy projects bring relief to families, tribal elders in Klamath Falls

Energy projects bring relief to families, tribal elders in Klamath Falls

In 2012, Wanda Powless worked with a group of partners to refurbish the old Olympic Lodge Motel in Klamath Falls, with the goal of creating transitional housing. From there, Turtle Cove was born, with the mission of providing a safe, stable place for women transitioning from abuse, places of poverty, addiction and crime.

The old motel was refurbished incrementally due to funding constraints. When the facility opened, none of the units had insulation and they relied on inefficient wall units for heat. Tenants even used their ovens for warmth, in some cases.

Turtle Cove offers safe, stable housing for families in Klamath Falls.

“The tenants were always cold. It was problematic and costly, and we saw no light at the end of the tunnel,” explained Powless, who is now the executive director of Turtle Cove.

While attending a local housing conference, Powless and her team connected with a representative from Energy Trust of Oregon focused on supporting organizations and tribes in the Klamath Basin. The two organizations then started a journey toward making Turtle Cove more energy-efficient and comfortable for the families who live there.

“Having the Energy Trust folks out to inspect the property was extremely helpful. They showed us where to start and gave us steps, instead of starting with the hard part and working backwards,” said Powless.

When it came to heating and cooling, Energy Trust worked with local contractor, Seasons Change, to install new energy-efficient ductless heat pumps (DHPs) in all 28 units at no cost to Turtle Cove. DHPs can both heat and cool spaces using less energy. The project was possible through Energy Trust’s Community Partner Funding which offers higher incentives for affordable housing providers and community-based organizations that work with rural and BIPOC communities or communities experiencing lower incomes or disabilities.

“I can’t say enough about the professionalism of the Seasons Change folks. They worked steadily for two weeks in zero-degree temperatures while addressing all the questions from the tenants,” said Powless.

Tenants like Amanda and her 7-year-old daughter are now able to live comfortably. “We’re so grateful to have consistent heat in our apartment now. I’m also looking forward to the air purification during the inevitable summer wildfires, as I have severe asthma,” said Amanda.

For any organizations considering energy efficiency upgrades, Powless recommends starting with Energy Trust.

“They made it smooth and painless, while doing all the work behind the scenes. They came in and said: ‘let us help you so you can be successful.’ Then our whole world changed. It was probably the greatest gift we as an organization have received.”

Ductless heat pumps provide both heating and cooling for tenants at Turtle Cove.

Program helps tenants save money while living comfortably

Just to the north in the town of Chiloquin, the Klamath Tribes own an affordable multifamily property called the Congregate Building. The building consists of 14 two-bedroom rental units that primarily house tribal elders. With no forced-air heat or air conditioning, tenants in the building relied on inefficient baseboard heating in the winter and window AC units in the summer.

“During the winter, some of the tenants had to bring in several space heaters to heat their units,” said Ellsworth Lang with the Klamath Tribes. “When the tenants were hot this past summer, they wanted to open their windows, but we were in close proximity to two major forest fires, so there were air quality issues.”

Lang had been working with Energy Trust’s tribal workgroup. Following a site visit and evaluation, Seasons Change with support from Energy Trust installed DHPs in all 14 of their units, with zero out of pocket costs to the tribe.

“Prior to the installation, many of the elders couldn’t afford to properly heat their homes,” said Matthew Johnson, owner of Seasons Change. “They’d set the heater at 60 degrees – which meant they weren’t comfortable, but they wouldn’t freeze to death. After the project, they could afford to be warm. Now they can live comfortably at 70-72 degrees while seeing a significant decrease in their heating bill.”

Energy Trust trade ally Seasons Change installed heat pumps in 28 units at Turtle Cove.

Support from Energy Trust is available to residential and commercial customers of Portland General Electric, Pacific Power, NW Natural, Cascade Natural Gas and Avista – including tribal families and businesses. If you are interested in learning how tribal communities can take advantage of similar energy efficiency programs, email or call 1.866.605.1676.