Navigators Help Reduce Energy Usage for Residents

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Tompkins Weekly 2-12-20

By Karim Beers

While Natalya Cowilich is a naturally outgoing and warm-hearted person, she was still a bit nervous this last December as she embarked on her first home energy visit as a volunteer energy navigator.

She was going to visit Diane, who preferred not to share her last name, who had reached out to Get Your GreenBack Tompkins, after receiving a postcard from NYSEG advertising the services of volunteer energy navigators. Diane was interested in free energy advising, which navigators offer in person or over the phone or email.

Diane had requested a visit in person. Cowilich was worried that she might not remember enough of the information about energy actions and programs that she had learned during her training to be of help to the resident.

Energy Navigator training on solar energy in May 2019. Photo by Karim Beers.

Cowilich, who was born and raised in Elmira, had been living in Ithaca for the last nine years and had participated in the energy navigator training earlier that year with a group of 15 other residents from around Tompkins County.

Cowilich had applied for the program because it matched her passions for sustainability and working with people to help them make concrete changes in their lives. The training helped her and other participants understand major energy users and how to help residents reduce their energy bills and transition to renewable energy to heat and power homes and even travel.

But how could she possibly remember all the things she had learned about over the course of those 10 weeks? She had spoken about energy audits and insulation and heat pumps and solar with friends and family members, but this was someone she hadn’t met before.

Cowilich’s fears quickly dissipated when she arrived.

“[Diane] was so sweet and overjoyed to have someone come in and help out,” Cowilich said.

Cowilich walked around with Diane, who showed her around the house, pointing out the places where it was cold and drafty. Cowilich had brought with her some items donated by NYSEG that help reduce energy use and helped Diane install plastic coverings over the drafty windows, as well as replace her light bulbs with energy-efficient LEDs.

As they worked together, Cowilich mentioned a state program that helps low-income homeowners as well as tenants like Diane get an energy audit and cover the costs of energy improvements like insulation and sealing up air leaks at no cost to her or to her landlord. Cowilich helped her fill out the application, which Diane later mailed in.

Cowilich has stayed in touch with Diane, who is waiting on a response from this state-funded program. Cowilich isn’t worried.

“One thing I’ve learned through my participation in this program is that these changes take time,” she said. “It takes time to build up a rapport with the participants, for them to complete the paperwork and for the contractors to do the work.”

Cowilich highly recommends the Energy Navigator program to others. Some of the components she has appreciated the most include the classes and learning in detail about how we use energy in our daily lives.

Cowilich also mentioned being pleasantly surprised by NYSEG’s initiatives to promote sustainability and energy conservation since it seems counterintuitive for a company that is in the business of selling energy to help people use less energy. For the last several years, NYSEG has supported the Energy Navigators program, including providing the materials navigators have given out to local residents.

She also appreciated getting to know other volunteer energy navigators, many of whom continue to be active with the program even after their formal volunteer period has ended, as well as the chance to do outreach and tabling and interact with residents of all ages at community events.

Cowilich’s advice to others considering becoming an energy navigator is to stick with it, even if it seems difficult at first.

“Don’t worry about memorizing all the energy information,” she said. “Even if you don’t remember all the details, you can still do a great job.”

If you do join the program, you may see Cowilich. She’s planning on continuing as an energy navigator for at least another year and is looking forward to speaking and helping out many more people like Diane.

A new round of training for Energy Navigator volunteers begins on Wednesday, April 9, 2020, with applications due on March 9. To learn more and to apply, visit

Karim Beers is Coordinator at Get Your GreenBack Tompkins.

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