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By Lindsay Audin
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The CEC handbook also provides a useful matrix of choices based on how those questions are answered. Assigning all energy-related duties to a single vendor may seem the easiest way to go, but may create other risks, such as:
What doesn’t make sense is hiring numerous contractors, each having a small piece of the energy pie, without also having an experienced energy manager on staff to coordinate work. In one case, an HVAC contractor was hired to install a system for reducing peak electric demand, which was expensive when power was bought from the local utility. Unaware of the new system, a power procurement contractor then arranged a power contract insensitive to peak demand charges, making the new system nearly worthless. Having a separate arrangement with an independent energy consultant who reviews the ESCO’s work and coordinates it with actions by others helps keep everyone honest. It also pays to maintain direct contact with ESCO subcontractors to preserve the option to pick the best people if it later becomes necessary to replace the ESCO with individual contractors. Finding Vendors Finding service contractors capable of meeting facility needs can be challenging, although not necessarily any more so than finding contractors to perform other services. Obtaining referrals from associates who have already hired contractors to provide energy services is one approach, as is performing Web searches to review posted lists of vendors used by others, particularly government agencies. Contacting vendor trade associations, such as the National Association of Energy Service Companies, might prove helpful as well. If either time or staff resources can’t be dedicated to finding energy service contractors, it’s even possible to even outsource that task. Some energy consulting firms act as matchmakers for connecting customers with energy service providers. Prior to contracting with a consulting firm, require disclosure of any relationships it has with service providers. How to Choose To choose an energy service provider, it’s wise to issue a request for qualifications document. A sample of the document can be found in the appendix of the California Energy Commission handbook. In addition to issuing the document, facility executives should review projects completed by vendors, visit the sites and talk with those served about their experience. Be sure to ask how they would do things differently in the future. In addition, review and spot check the credentials, certifications and resumes of the manager and major players that would be serving the facility, especially for relevance. A boiler certification, for instance, is of little use when performing lighting upgrades. Another good check is to see if the vendors are listed as preferred or licensed contractors with any state or federal agencies. Also, review the specifications and deliverable descriptions to be used by potential providers. Where appropriate, compare them to the present maintenance and design specs. Ask if specs may be added to the service contract to control the quality of the vendor’s work. Lastly, don’t be afraid to check the credit history of the vendors or to check with state and local licensing agencies or the Better Business Bureau. Another good practice is to perform an Internet search on the name of the vendor. Include the word “suit” in the search to look for lawsuits filed by or against it. Do the same for the vendor president and the manager that would be handling the facility contract. Once a list of acceptable vendors has been developed, ask for bids through a request for proposals. Click here for a sample document (pdf) for an energy performance contract. Have an attorney with experience in service agreements review proposed contracts, especially with regard to vendor performance and restrictions on damages. On technical issues, have an independent energy consultant with experience in both managing energy projects and energy data analysis review proposals and proposed contracts.
In addition, the U.S. General Services Administration provides information on energy services contractors in its Schedules eLibrary. Likewise, the Federal Energy Management Program division of the Department of Energy maintains its list of “Super Energy Savings Performance Contracts ESCOs” by region. Where retail electricity metering has been deregulated, state public utility commissions post contact information for firms licensed to handle utility metering. Links to utility commissions. Those same firms can handle customer submetering.