With Utility Rebates, Complex Rules Can Trip Up Facility Managers
Understanding the rules of rebate programs may be easier said than done. In bigger cities with well-documented demand-side management programs, documentation may change year to year. But Lubinski remembers one electric utility that changed its form six times in six months.
Utilities often require facility managers to take certain steps before an energy upgrade actually begins. In one instance, says Audin, a client ripped out an old system and dumped the motors before the utility came for the initial inspection. The facility then "had to do a huge amount of work — they had to dig up specifications — because they didn't follow the procedure properly." Some utility agencies will accept an initial energy audit from a third party, but some may send their own people to verify original conditions. In the instance mentioned above, the "backfilling" that was done increased the cost of the project, and the facility was lucky that the utility accepted its documentation.
The complexity of utility rules will depend in part on the nature of the rebate program. A prescriptive program is the most common road to rebates, where a certain amount of dollars are paid for such items as variable frequency drives or lighting retrofits. For example, most utilities will pay prescriptively, by the ton, for rooftop HVAC units above a certain energy efficiency rating, Bloom says. Custom programs usually have a longer time line and more complex measurement and verification. Equipment such as high efficiency boilers, furnaces, or water heaters must be metered over time to show the facility is saving energy.
"Custom measures are where most of the money is," says Audin, "but they require another level of energy analysis that involves measurement over a certain period of time. The measurement has to technically prove energy savings, which have to be reviewed by an agency, and that can take many months." Audin knows of a case in which a rebate for new HVAC systems had still not been paid two years after the work was completed. Measurement involved computer modeling in which meters were electronically accessible through a website, and measurement had to be done in 15-minute intervals. "The more complex a project, the more you have to do to meet rebate requirements," Audin says.
Maryellen Lo Bosco is an Asheville, N.C.-based freelance writer who covers the facility market.