U.S. Climate Change News October 2017

Trump Administration Takes Steps To Repeal the Clean Power Plan. On October 10, 2017, USEPA Administrator Scott Pruitt submitted to the Federal Register proposed legislation to repeal the Clean Power Plan, President Obama’s signature legislation to significantly reduce U.S. greenhouse gases (GHG) by developing stringent GHG emission standards for power production. As coal-fired power plants cannot reasonably meet these emission standards. The USEPA believes it is unfair to have legislation to target a particular fuel type, and began the repeal process to encourage growth in coal usage from U.S. mines. This is quite controversial as coal, a high emitter of GHGs, as well as other and toxic compounds, is still a major source of energy in the U.S. electric industry. By encouraging coal production and use, the U.S. would be hard-pressed to meet the Paris Climate Accord goals, although President Trump has already announced that the U.S. will leave the Accord anyway. In addition, much has been written that this move may make little difference, as other economic factors makes coal a non-ideal choice as a fuel for a utility (see below), such as the declining cost of building and operating a renewable plant. The public has 60 days from initial publication in the Federal Register to comment after which the USEPA must respond before making the repeal official.

States, Cities And Private Businesses Put U.S. Halfway To Paris Climate Accord Goal. According to a study released on September 25 by New Climate Institute and the Climate Group, efforts to address climate change by states, cities and corporations have already put the U.S. halfway toward its Paris Accord climate goal despite the current Administration’s attempt to reverse recent federal efforts. The study estimated that such efforts will cause GHG emissions to drop by 12-14% below the 2005 baseline by 2025. The study, based on certified data from the Carbon Disclosure Project, found that U.S. private sector commitments were the biggest factor in reducing GHG emissions. The decline in emissions are being caused mainly by these commitments of switching from fossil fuel combustion to renewable power.

First State-Wide, Economy-Wide Carbon Tax Is Proposed. Earlier this year, a bill was introduced in the Massachusetts House and another in the Senate that would establish a tax on fossil fuels with the goals to reduce GHG emissions and return the proceeds to consumers and businesses. https://malegislature.gov/Bills/190/H1726. Both bills would impose an initial tax of $10 or $20 per ton of CO2 emissions, rising to $40 per ton in the future. Several years ago, the USEPA estimated that the cost of a ton of GHG emissions was about $42 per ton, which was why they chose this endpoint. It was understood it needed to be approached gradually. Both bills require refunding of some or all of the tax proceeds to households and businesses.
It is estimated that should either bill become law the price of gasoline and heating fuel in Massachusetts would eventually rise by about 35 cents per gallon. The bills contain rebate programs to incentivize energy efficiency, rewarding businesses or households that reduce energy usage per employee (or member), not just energy usage as a whole.

Currently, Massachusetts enforces GHG reduction rules targeted to power plants. However, with electric generation comprising just 28% of GHG emissions in Massachusetts, legislators felt it was time to regulate other sectors, as well, particularly, the transportation sector, which accounts for about 30% of statewide GHG emissions.

While certain business groups are concerned about competitiveness and disproportionate impacts, the bills have many co-sponsors. Therefore, it is likely that some such bill will pass and with a sympathetic governor, a carbon tax would become law in Massachusetts, perhaps signed in 2018, going into initial effect in 2019.

CCES has the technical experts to help you assess your energy needs and help you be more energy efficient, which has many financial benefits, including preparing for future carbon taxes or monetization of GHG emission credits. Contact us today and we can help at 914-584-6720 or at karell@CCESworld.com.

Breathe Easier: What To Do About Indoor Air Pollution By Jackie Edwards

If you think about air pollution, your mind conjures up images of smog, fog and busy city streets. You don’t necessarily imagine that your home or workplace could be a major perpetrator of pollution, that could actually be one of the main factors contributing to conditions like asthma, COPD, and even skin problems such as eczema and psoriasis. It is estimated that the indoor air we breathe could be between two and five times more toxic than the air we breathe outdoors. Given that productivity loss due to sick time off is a growing issue for workplaces, how did it get to be such a problem, and how can we address it?

Household items are part of the problem

While the main causes of indoor air pollution are combustion related, one only need to look deeper into the home or office to find more surprising causes of such issues. Items such as furniture, carpets and flooring, and personal care products – everything from shampoos and hairspray through to air fresheners and cleaning products. They all have the potential to contribute to indoor air pollution.

Air pollution explained

The USEPA rates outdoor air pollution using a scale on the Air Quality Index, or AQI. The levels are registered as follows:
Good = 0 to 50
Moderate = 51 to 100
Unhealthy for sensitive groups = 101 to 150
Unhealthy = 151 to 200
Very unhealthy = 201 to 300
Hazardous = 301 to 500

Outdoor air in most urban places in the U.S. falls in the 100-150 range.

At risk groups

Unsurprisingly, it is children and the elderly who are most at risk from indoor air pollution, as active children breathe in more (polluted) air per body weight than adults and seniors have weakened defenses. Conditions like asthma are the ones that are more likely to keep children out of school than any other. Mold and mildew in damp classrooms can also contribute to indoor air pollution and breathing difficulties.

Similarly, the elderly can also be troubled greatly by chronic breathing problems, that are contributed to by unclean air, particularly if they live in sheltered accommodation or are living in a care home where heating has to be on to a high level and at all times of the day.

But even working age adults are vulnerable to illnesses caused by indoor air pollutants and could lose significant time at work or suffer pre-mature death if not addressed.

How do we address these issues?

One of the key ways to help solve these issues is proper and adequate ventilation throughout the home or workplace. Keeping doors and windows open or on a vent facility to keep air circulating all the time can be of real benefit. While commercial buildings are designed for a constant ventilation flow, sometimes such systems do not work or are not optimal. However, that’s not the only thing you can do:
• Make sure any appliances that are flammable are adequately ventilated.

• If you have a clothes drier, make sure there is no blockage and it ventilates the dust outside rather than inside.

• Storage of chemicals, paints, inks, garden poisons, and kerosene or gasoline should be kept strictly away from where workers spend the most time or any living quarters, preferably locked in a safe space outside.

• Try not to overuse candles, smoke indoors or the grill on your oven

• After you’ve bathed or showered, open your windows and keep them like this for at least forty-five minutes, but preferably longer.

• Adding air filters to bedroom spaces can make a difference to people at both ends of the age spectrum who suffer from breathing problems, as can installing a professional HVAC system to your home.

Why Energy Should Be Incorporated As Part of Your Company’s Strategy

It’s approaching the end of the year, which means self-evaluation of your company. What went well; what did not. What can be changed or should be incorporated to ensure growth moving forward? Historically, companies focus on sales and profits. Look at the headlines in major business journals: “XYZ Reports Auto Sales Jumped by X% In 1 Year”, etc. Expenses are pretty important, but the one that most companies seem to focus on is labor, as in how can it be lowered (lay off workers, increase automation, etc.). While companies cumulatively spend billions on energy annually, that expense is considered a fixed expense with little need for managing. This is a mistake. Companies can reduce energy costs and at the same time reduce risk and improve resilience.

Energy should be more important to a corporation given the fixed supply of it and issues involving regulations due to environmental, climate change, and business trends. Companies can now make choices about its energy sources and usage that it could not have made before with impacts on profit, costs, and flexibility. This is exemplified by the shift in the U.S. from traditional industrial manufacturing to more IT, cloud-based services by corporations, where energy costs can be a potential deal breaker.

Sources

Companies now have many more options of where energy comes from than before. A major new force is renewables. Solar, wind, hydro have been around for a while, but major technological advances now make building an operating a solar PV farm comparable to purchasing electricity from the local utility or running your own cogen. With the growing number of states who want to achieve a higher percentage of power derived from renewables and utilities wanting to get more facilities to become independent because of infrastructure concerns, incentives exist to sweeten the pot even more if one wants to invest in renewable power.

Another approach is to look at site-specific approaches and restrictions. You have a specific facility in a certain country or region. What are the sources of energy that are most easily accessible and plentiful in that region? Companies should make sure that equipment is capable of using that fuel or be ready to invest in new plants to secure that energy source. And they should take the long view. Which fuels may be impacted by future climate change rules or by future shortages for political or technical reasons?

Usage

Obviously, reducing usage of a fuel critical for your operations will reduce costs. But doing so will also improve your operational flexibility. If there is a looming shortage of a critical fuel, and you use less of it than your competitors, that flexibility puts you in a more commanding position, needing less. Being able to use more than one type of fuel for critical operations is beneficial, too, and gives your firm tremendous flexibility to ride price upheavals.

An overlooked issue in minimizing energy usage and improve flexibility is treatment of heavy equipment. Boilers, AC equipment, electric generators all need to be maintained and replaced at the appropriate times. It is a positive investment to perform retro-commissioning to maintain that the equipment is operating as you wish it; for you, the owner, to get your money’s worth. Also overlooked is proper training. Sometimes the first to be let go are maintenance workers; they appear not to contribute to the “bottom line”. But good maintenance people and managers (overseeing good procedures) can lengthen the effective life of equipment and keep down usage and costs very effectively.

How-To

A key to getting energy to be taken seriously as a top-of-the-line corporate interest is to have the top person, the CEO, involved. He/she should understand the importance of managing energy in a robust way and what the benefits are to the company’s moving forward. There may be doubters in the C-suite, including people who may not want Energy to “elbow its way” into decision making. But if the CEO understands the ultimate value of considering, tracking, and managing energy sources and usage, then those doubters can be silenced. So invest time in educating the entire C-suite, but particularly the CEO and update him/her on developments.

Make sure that energy is tracked as well as other business items, such as sales, workforce, profits, etc., and is included in business reports. Make sure that gains and benefits are explained and recognized.

CCES can help your company develop a robust energy program to serve your company. Its infrastructure, as well as technical evaluations of strategies to raise its value in the company and to demonstrate financial benefits. Contact us today at karell@CCESworld.com or at 914-584-6720.

New, Supplemental and Complementary Green Building Standards: WELL

The most widely used green building rating system in the world is LEED, created by the US Green Business Council (USGBC). LEED certification is a globally recognized symbol of sustainability achievement, and the standards provide guidance to help building owners and managers conserve energy and water, reduce waste, and minimize building and occupants’ environmental impacts. LEED has been well received and more and more new and renovated buildings are becoming LEED certified. Building owners are beginning to reap real, significant financial benefits of their LEED-certified buildings.

However, for some LEED is a standard with limited benefits. Some company and building owners realize that their tenants, whether residents, employees, shoppers, or students, are more concerned with their health. Can buildings contain features that will improve the health and welfare of occupants, making them happier and more productive, as well as raising the asset value or driving demand for the space?

The USGBC has addressed this by publishing such unique standards called WELL Building Standards, or “WELL” for short. WELL consists of features across seven concepts that comprehensively address the design and operations of buildings as well as how these features impact and influence human behaviors related to health and well-being. The seven concepts addressed in WELL standards include:

• Air
• Water
• Nourishment
• Light
• Fitness
• Comfort
• Mind

Like LEED, WELL standards contain mandatory pre-requisites across these areas that all WELL-certified buildings must meet at a minimum, as well as a point system that must be satisfied for WELL certification. These standards to improve the health and well-being of occupants include, but are not limited to, proper ventilation, reducing the level of indoor air pollutants, improving drinking water quality, reducing infiltration of water, promoting the use of natural light, and having specific building areas devoted to improve fitness and relaxation. Like LEED, WELL has a system to accredit professional practitioners, so having an accredited WELL professional on your certification team means being professionally guided to achieve WELL certification. Innovation in design and building operation to optimize meeting WELL standards is also rewarded.

WELL is a new program, and the first initial projects are being undertaken now and the first professionals accredited. How much will a WELL-certified building benefit a business, in terms of worker health, reduced sick days, improved productivity, etc.? The data will be collected and we will soon be able to validate the claims. However, there is no question that the common sense standards can only succeed in reducing sick days, improving both health and morale, and raise confidence and motivation, critical in sales.

If you are interested in learning more about WELL standards, learning whether this is the yardstick that is best for your building or business, and determining what it takes to become WELL-certified, contact Ms. Bonnie Hagen of Bright Energy Services today at bonnie@brightenergyservcies.com or at 914-425-1376 or Marc Karell of CCES at karell@CCESworld.com or at 914-584-6720.

The Importance Of Planning for Extreme Storms

As Texas and Florida begin to recover from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma’s onslaughts, the full impacts are being assessed and lessons learned. Besides the dozens of people who lost their lives, the property damage is well into the billions. Particularly hard hit are people’s homes, their biggest investments, in most cases, with no or inadequate flood insurance. In addition, for some time nearly one-third of US refining capacity was affected. At least one chemical plant suffered several explosions, causing a mass evacuation from miles of the plant. There have been several reports of releases from pipelines. This toll certainly points to the importance of preparedness and response to minimize damage in the future when future storms hit. Such efforts need to be a partnership between government and the companies affected to be most effective.

Government needs to give companies guidelines on what level of safety in an emergency is acceptable; what level of protection should be provided to the public and institutions. While many do not like regulations, fair, consistent regulations that defines a level of protection and implemented across the board in a smart way (mainly for at risk areas) makes the most sense. In 2011, the Clean Water Act was amended to require facilities that could release oil or natural gas to prepare and be ready to implement facility response plans in case of an emergency. The system worked, as few discharges of oil products were reported, given the new plans and the advanced warning of Harvey that we had.

Of course, it is impossible to expect no environmentally-sensitive spills occur given the historic rainfall (more rain that had ever fallen in a short period in the whole US). We should remember that this is a long-term process, a learning experience. As plants and pipelines re-open, care should be given to assure that before equipment and processes are re-started that they be inspected for viability (replace, if necessary, damaged parts and equipment, make sure the whole system is working) so there is a smooth re-start of operations (with minimal discharges and emissions) and to fully learn lessons to lessen impacts from future storms.

This is also important for municipalities. While Harvey and Irma represented extreme rainfall and wind events, the question that comes up is whether the municipalities were able to handle the water and winds and can they do so the next time. Stormwater systems need to be re-examined and potentially improved. Escape routes better planned and improved, if necessary, in order for emergency services to continue in the area and for greater resiliency. If necessary, municipalities NOT impacted by Harvey and Irma should take note and ask themselves how they might have fared if storms similar in scope hit them and go back and plan and spend to protect citizens better. The images we all saw of floods and wind damage in Texas and Florida should be enough motivation for all municipalities to review and bolster their emergency planning and services, even if it means spending more money and, yes, raising taxes. Harvey and Irma can represent models against which we plan for.

CCES can assist your company in emergency planning, resiliency, and sustainability. Contact us today at 914-584-6720 or at karell@CCESworld.com.

Future of the Clean Power Plan Under Pruitt

September 2017

It is well known in this first year of the Trump Administration that many existing rules – particularly those promulgated during the Obama Administration – are being weakened, delayed, or repealed. One example is the Clean Power Plan, meant to regulate emissions from coal-fired power plants. The Obama era rule is being litigated in court. USEPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has used this as justification to state that the agency would not object to any state delaying its implementation of the Clean Power Plan and not follow any part of the schedule stated in the promulgated Plan. A number of state attorneys general have issued a letter warning Pruitt that these actions are ill-advised and potentially illegal. This matter is heading to court. After all, Congress has not amended the rule, no court has not called the Plan unconstitutional, and the US Supreme Court continues to cite greenhouse gases as legitimate pollutants that the USEPA must regulate. A presidential executive order earlier this year for the government to not enforce the law apparently has no legal standing.

The Clean Power Plan would require reductions in CO2 emissions from 2005 levels by 32% by 2030. Ironically, the US is already about half way there, independent of the rule, mainly because of market forces encouraging many power plants to switch from coal to natural gas as its fuel; gas combustion results in much lower CO2 emissions than coal.

The US Court of Appeals last year upheld the objections of some parties to the Plan, and subsequently allowed the delay of some aspects of it. But that court substantiated that the Plan is still the rule of law and only some deadlines can be bypassed.

In addition to a number of states objecting to the delays in administering the Clean Power Plan, a number are also promulgating their own new rules and standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and from other sources in response to the Trump Administration announcement that it would withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. They are using Paris goals for their own new rules. Many Fortune 500 companies are also creating and implementing their own plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, understanding the financial benefits from doing so. With the states and major corporations together achieving major greenhouse gas emission reductions, it may not matter what the courts rule about the validity of the Clean Power Plan, the US involvement in the Paris Agreement, and other climate change rules.

Please note that this article is not meant in any way as a legal briefing or discussion. Please do your own research in terms of the future of climate change or any environmental legislation. CCES can help your company reduce your “carbon footprint”, achieve long-lasting greenhouse gas emission reductions, and do so in ways to benefit you financially, from reduced utility bills to improved productivity to reduced maintenance costs to higher asset values. Contact us today at 914-584-6720 or at karell@CCESworld.com.

Environmental Risk and Compliance in Aftermath of an Emergency

How do we treat environmental compliance in an area hit by an emergency? Do we suspend environmental rules and procedures as people and land recover? Or do we treat it as nothing has happened? The recent tragedies of Harvey and Irma put this question in perspective.

As Hurricane Harvey left destruction throughout southeast Texas, it was natural to allow residents to return to their homes as soon as it became passable to make their way back. However, was it safe to let people return so quickly?
The USEPA reported that over a week after Harvey hit Texas, over 800 wastewater treatment plants were still not fully operational and there were releases of untreated wastewater from sanitary sewers. 13 Superfund sites in the hardest hit areas were not even visited yet by the USEPA, although it was likely that the flood waters carried some toxic material with them. Over 100,000 people had no access to safe drinking water weeks after Harvey hit. Was it safe to allow people to return without a basic assessment of these issues? Did the government put the residents at further risk of health impacts by allowing a premature return? Remember how in the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy, the affected area was declared “safe”, and many rescue workers came, only to face debilitating health effects in the future because the air still had high concentrations of ash and other toxic compounds.

In addition, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Texas Governor Greg Abbott suspended many environmental rules, such as waiving the requirement to operate pollution control equipment and regulating operations at different types of facilities on the theory that these efforts could hamper the recovery from the hurricane. These suspensions include air emission and effluent restrictions, as well as performing certain operations, maintenance, testing, and reporting and spill reporting and response requirements of hazardous waste, of which the heavy rains and winds carried outside of containment areas into areas where people may be exposed. Texas also issued guidance allowing local authorities to perform whatever recovery activities it believes will be most effective, even if there are environmental implications. It should be noted that this applies to state rules only, and does not apply to federal rules.

The scope of the suspension is only applicable where normal operations are unsafe due to the conditions and compliance would prevent or hinder actions needed to recover in coping with this disaster. The suspension is only valid in the areas hit by Harvey and only for the time that the area is considered a disaster area.

However, was this the proper decision? Might suspending rules and procedures increase the environmental impact and the risk of exposure to pollutants in the air, water, and solid areas?

Further study will determine whether these were risky decisions or prudent given the circumstances. Lessons will be learned.

CCES can help your firm assess the technical aspects of compliance with and risk from environmental regulations in your state and locality. Contact us today at 914-584-6720 or at karell@CCESworld.com.

Some Environmental Legal Updates – August 2017

Things change so quickly, but here are a few new items that have gone on this summer. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt had been very vocal about how he feels EPA regulations have hurt industry and job creation. Since taking office, he has quietly begun an effort to repeal or not to enforce several Obama-era environmental rules.

On July 3, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit nixed EPA Administrator’s Scott Pruitt’s attempt to delay a rule limiting methane leaks at oil and gas facilities. The rule requires companies digging for natural gas to plug leaks of methane, which would help them recover natural gas they can sell, as well as reduce emissions of a potent greenhouse gas and air pollutant. As part of his effort to ease regulations for industry, Pruitt decided, instead of having the rule repeal, to instead achieve the same end by suspending the rule’s compliance deadlines. The EPA had argued that the Clean Air Act allowed the EPA to do this (temporarily suspend a rule) while considering objections that could not have been raised prior to the rule’s issuance. However, the court found the claim to be false. The objections were clearly shown to have been raised earlier.

Pruitt’s actions to repeal or reduce enforcement of rules have been done very quietly without proper public notice or comment. The Administrative Procedure Act requires EPA to seek and respond to public input before taking major deregulatory steps. But Pruitt has been attempting to bypass that requirement by suspending rules indefinitely without public comment, instead of repealing them. Suspension can only occur for rules before they go into effect. Therefore, he has been successful in only suspending rules that had just been promulgated at the end of the Obama Administration, but had not gone into effect yet.

Once a rule goes into effect, elements of the rule, such as what is compliance and when it goes into effect cannot be suspended or altered without a request for public comment, and serious review of such comment. This has not stopped the EPA from suspending compliance deadlines for several rules after those rules went into effective.

On July 18, 2017, the EPA published in the Federal Register its proposed rule on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) Program: Standards for 2018 and Biomass-Based Diesel Volume for 2019. (https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2017-07-21/pdf/2017-14632.pdf). The proposed volume requirements represent decreases from current standards for cellulosic biofuel, advanced biofuel, and renewable fuel. Only the requirements for renewable fuel is essentially the same in 2018 and 2019 compared to 2017. Comments on the proposed rule must be received by August 31, 2017.

While the proposed reduction in the amount of renewable fuel is relatively small, many in the biofuels industry are concerned that it sends the signal to the market that the U.S. renewable fuel industry will no longer grow. The proposed volume requirements may undercut the Administration’s goal of reducing U.S. reliance on foreign energy and reviving U.S. manufacturing, despite President Trump’s repeated pledge to support the ethanol industry.

Please note that this should not be considered a legal interpretation in any way. For further information, speak to a qualified environmental legal representative to fully understand new or modified rules and how they may affect you and your firm. CCES has the technical experts to help you keep abreast of new rule changes at the federal and state level and how to address them to impact you as little as possible. Contact us today at 914-584-6720 or at karell@CCESworld.com.

Research Finds Proper Lighting Lowers Worker Stress

I recently submitted a great proposal for an upgrade to LED lights for a warehouse. Solid utility rebates, an excellent reduction of energy costs and return on investment (existing lights were very inefficient). Yet, the company’s Board of Directors was split. I presented the facility manager a summary of all the benefits, including that it will likely raise worker productivity. He questioned all of the findings (even as he said he was in favor of the project!), and I only then realized that this company just did not want to deal with change – even if the numbers showed it was beneficial.

After he questioned the ability of proper lighting to improve productivity I decided to look deeper into the notion of lighting influencing workplace stress. A major research study at RPI (found in the journal Sleep Health, June 2017) found that office workers who receive a significant dose of circadian-effective light in the morning, from either electric lighting or daylight, experience better sleep and lower levels of depression and stress, than those who spend their mornings in dim or low light levels. The research team investigated the connection between circadian stimulus (CS), a measure of light’s impact on the circadian system, and sleep, depression, and stress in and better overall sleep quality and mood scores, in both summer and winter seasons.

Further study has pinpointed the likely mechanism. Humans, of course, lived and evolved under the Sun. Natural sunlight contains all wavelengths of visible light and ultraviolet and infrared radiation, as well. Common office or factory fluorescent lights typically emit visible light in a fairly tight range of wavelengths. Many wavelengths our eyes and, therefore, our brains are used to dealing with are absent. This affects our circadian rhythm, as we have not dealt with such a narrow range in evolutionary history, and therefore raises stress and sleeplessness. LED lights more closely mimic the wider range of visible light, reducing the change from our natural system and, thus, reducing circadian disruption and stress.

A 2016 study of the effects on the productivity of garment workers in India working under LED lights vs. fluorescents also showed increased productivity (www.anantnyshadham.com/storage/AKN_LED_may2016.pdf). The authors believe at least some of the effects is due to the reduced heat given off by the LEDs and thus, the more comfortable temperatures in the shop. But the improvement was demonstrated.

CCES has the experts to help you implement a lighting assessment to both save significant energy costs and to raise comfort and productivity of your employees. While saving energy costs are itself great, improving worker productivity (fewer errors, more work done, fewer sick days) can make a business even more money, as well as reputation. We have lighting experts not just to replace existing lights, but to assess if lighting can be made better for your workers or to show off your products or any other reason. Contact us today at 914-584-6720 or at karell@CCESworld.com.

Our Hang-up With Energy Rebates

I can’t tell you the number of times I have approached building owners or managers with great opportunities to upgrade energy systems (lights, HVAC, etc.) saving money right away and paying back the investment in a short time, and the first question I’m asked is “Are there any rebates?”. When I tell a client there are none for that or it is paltry, the building owner/manager actually ignores the many other benefits and is reluctant to do the project. If the payback of an upgrade is under 3 years and the ROI of investment is double digit percent growth per year anyway, why should a rebate “make or break” a project? I guess some people really enjoy “free money”, of part of the cost being paid by a government or utility. While a client and the engineer should look for all available applicable rebates, it is unreasonable to actually squelch a project due to its absence.

So that you understand why rebates may or may not be available in your area, here is some background. It is certainly contrary to business sense for a utility to pay a building to install and utilize technology that will cause it to use less energy (natural gas or electricity). Utilities offer rebates for either of two reasons. One is they are forced to by the state’s government or watchdog agency. These elected officials or people beholden to them know that being able to say that they saved a certain amount of a resource or utilized it more efficiently is what people want and a good thing for a politician to boast. A second reason is that the more energy a region uses, the greater the infrastructure costs are for the utility. In even modest utility districts, utilities are forced to spend billions of dollars in capital costs to upgrade, expand, or replace existing infrastructure (utility lines, gas lines, etc.). And, of course, to ensure they are up-to-date and safe. If infrastructure fails, and a power blackout results or a gas line explodes, the negative headlines, the anger of residents and businesses, and being hauled into legislative hearings over the failure, is something to avoid at nearly all costs. Therefore, the less energy used, the less that infrastructure needs to be upgraded and at a lower cost.

Therefore, it is important to do research on rebates. The availability and amount for different programs vary between utilities. In general, most rebates are universal for a utility. A rebate for LED lights resulting in decreased electric usage is valid throughout a utility’s district. However, some utilities designate some rebates as greater in different areas within the district. For example, in New York City, Con Edison’s Demand Response Program encouraging building owners to use their own generators and be off the grid during peak demand periods, has greater rebate payments for buildings located in a certain area which has seen the greatest growth in electrical demand (gentrification) and weakest infrastructure. And lower incentives everywhere else, including zones where infrastructure is fine. So look carefully at the conditions of a rebate.

Part of your research should also be on timing. Utilities and the commissions that oversee them often decide annually on rebates. They decide if they are effective or not, look at market conditions, and then adjust for the next year. A rebate at a certain level this year may go down (or up) next year or be eliminated altogether. For example, some utilities are reducing or eliminating LED lighting rebates. The price of LEDs has droped recently, plus it is more accepted. Many feel an incentive is no longer needed; savings and payback are sufficient without it. Your engineer (including this one!) should keep up with the latest trends and talk to those managing rebates.

I should add that I have seen the opposite reaction (occasionally) of building owners and managers feeling almost guilty about receiving a rebate for an upgrade. Nobody should feel this way. Most rebates come from charges that are in your monthly utility bill. You pay into a fund used for rebates. Therefore, when you do an upgrade, you are simply taking back the money that you have put in!

In summary, research or have your engineer research and go forward with any energy rebates that an upgrade qualifies for. However, don’t be hung-up on it. If a rebate (or tax deduction or other financial benefit) does not exist or is only worth a small percentage of the upfront cost, let it not stop you from doing the project. The vast majority of energy upgrade projects are very financially beneficial for building owners for a long-period of time even without utility or government rebates.

CCES has the experts and experience to help you get the maximum financial benefits from an energy upgrade, including being up to date on potential rebates and to get you through the application process. Contact us today at 914-584-6720 or at karell@CCESworld.com.