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By Maryellen Lo Bosco
Power & Communication Article Use Policy
The past few years have been good ones for facility managers who want to use utility incentives to smooth the path to energy upgrades. In 2010, rate-payer funded programs provided $5.5 billion in incentives, according to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy. The usual incentive of choice is the rebate. On individual projects, rebates may cover 15 to 20 percent of capital costs. And some projects do much better. "We have seen very efficient projects in the right jurisdictions which pay 50 to 100 percent of capital costs," says Doug Bloom, chief executive officer of RealWinWin.
It can be a major disappointment for facility managers who fail to qualify for rebates they were hoping to get. But in many cases, facility managers have only themselves to blame. There are plenty of reasons that facility managers lose out on rebates, and many have to do with mistakes made in the application process.
The biggest challenge to getting rebates is commitment and motivation, says Bloom. "Capturing rebates is not a primary requirement of the task at hand — getting the equipment installed and operational is."
To make the most of rebates, facility managers must, first and foremost, pay attention. Specifically, they need to pay attention to when rebates become available, when the paperwork needs to be in and how to dot all their i's and cross all their t's.
Demand-side management programs — a category that includes rebates as well as other utility incentives — have become so popular that utility companies sometimes run out of funds early in the year. That's why it's important to get applications in early. "You want to be prepared, with your application ready to go, signed, double-checked, and perfect so that you end up at the front of the list," says Richard G. Lubinski, president of Think Energy Management LLC. "If your document is not complete, you have to resubmit it, and you may not get access."
Facility managers can sometimes plan ahead, so that upgrades or new equipment installation coincide with available money from utility companies. For example, some utilities have been offering incentives to replace T12 lamps. This summer, new federal regulations will end the sale or import of most T12 lamps, says Lindsay Audin, president of EnergyWiz. Once those regulations are in effect, incentives to replace T12 lamps will be obsolete.
For existing incentives, Lubinski recommends pre-approval to remove the guesswork, even with programs which need just an inspection. "Get a letter saying you are approved, and this is the amount of the rebate," he says. "That's smart business."
If a facility files to get pre-approved and have funds allocated to its project, the approval process could take a month or two before the work even starts, Bloom says. When dealing with more complicated projects — for example, when performance improvement must be demonstrated within 60 or 90 days — facility managers may run into a time crunch. If it's a large building and contractors are working on second and third shift, it may take months just to finish a project, before it is even possible to measure performance. "Most utilities will grant you a time extension, so it's important to know what the rules are," says Lubinski. "The clock may be running from when the letter is issued."
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