The Tri-County Regional Energy Network reduces local energy use, trains the building industry workforce of tomorrow

Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties have some of the most ambitious climate goals in the state: Santa Barbara County’s new 2030 Climate Action Plan will seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent over the next 10 years, and the city of San Luis Obispo aims to reach carbon neutrality by 2035.

click to enlarge The Tri-County Regional Energy Network reduces local energy use, trains the building industry workforce of tomorrow
NEW SKILLS: Building industry professionals attend a pre-pandemic 3C-REN training session, held in partnership with In Balance Green Consulting. For now, 3C-REN has pivoted to offer its training events virtually.

Reducing energy use in the built environment is integral to achieving these ambitions, according to Santa Barbara County Sustainability Division Chief Ashley Watkins, as buildings are responsible for 25 to 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

“But we can’t really achieve that goal if we’re not able to educate people about the benefits of energy efficiency technologies, provide incentives or financing to encourage people to adopt those technologies, and then provide a workforce that’s properly training to be able to install those types of equipment,” Watkins said.

The Tri-County Regional Energy Network, which Watkins helps direct, aims to achieve just that by reducing energy use in the region’s buildings. 

In 2019, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties launched this regional entity, also known as 3C-REN. The partnership provides services for households, such as free energy saving kits and virtual home assessments, and services for building industry professionals, such as workforce training and energy code forums—and it’s all funded through local utility ratepayer dollars.

Before the days of regional energy networks like 3C-REN, these programs were all run through the California Public Utilities Commission. But many of the state-run resources are based out of urban centers like Los Angeles, making it difficult for a Central Coast resident to access them.

“We found our residents weren’t really hearing about available programs and that it was difficult for the workforce to be able to take a day off work and drive down for training,” Watkins said.

3C-REN takes those same dollars—a line item that utility payers can find in their monthly bill—and keeps them local.

“The idea is returning these ratepayer dollars to the community to reinvest in energy efficiency,” 3C-REN Portfolio Manager Erica Helson said.

For people who want to save energy (and money) in their homes, 3C-REN’s Home Energy Savings Program offers a no-cost home assessment, which is currently done virtually due to the pandemic. Following the assessment, 3C-REN will send you a free Energy Efficiency Starter Pack with LED light bulbs, a smart power strip, and more, so you can start saving on your energy bills with no out-of-pocket costs. Since launching the program earlier this year, 3C-REN has served nearly 250 households.

If you’re a building industry professional, 3C-REN offers free training events, with more than 70 held since 2019. 

The cross-county partnership also brings together industry experts a few times a year for regional forums, such as the one on Nov. 13. The virtual conference, called “Taking the High Road: Preparing our Region’s Workforce for Quality Jobs in Energy Efficiency,” focused on what the California Workforce Development Board dubs the “High Road Framework.”

“It’s a new framing for a lot of energy and resources from the state and increasingly within the region,” 3C-REN Co-Director Jon Griesser said. 

It focuses on equity, climate, and jobs, and can serve as a guide for regional workforce development efforts, like those 3C-REN is undertaking. Griesser said it’s about “meeting the needs of employers and employees to create high quality, family-supporting jobs, and making sure that you’re creating the kind of workforce that our employers need.”

“At the same time,” he continued, it’s about “making sure that we’re doing these things with equity front and center, and working to achieve increasingly aggressive climate goals.”

One way 3C-REN achieves this is by making a concerted effort to reach underserved parts of the community with its free and discounted energy upgrades, Watkins said.

“The Home Energy Savings Program can serve all of our residents, but we are really trying to target what we consider hard-to-reach residents,” Watkins said, such as low-income individuals or people who don’t speak English as their first language. “We’re trying to make sure that ratepayer dollars are being distributed equally amongst everyone in our community.” 

If you’re interested in learning more, visit


Pacific Gas & Electric Company recently shared some tips with customers on how to stay safe and keep energy bills low over the holidays. PG&E advises customers to cook with a clean oven, which reduces the risk of a grease fire and results in better tasting food. Keeping the oven door closed once the food’s in cuts down on energy consumption. PG&E suggests using the oven light to check on food instead. Finally, use the stovetop instead of the oven when possible, as it uses less energy. Or, plan ahead so that your oven and stovetop dishes are cooking simultaneously. Happy eating!

Staff Writer Malea Martin wrote this week’s Spotlight. Send tidbits to [email protected].

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