Maxize rebates and government incentives with these 13 tips

March 13, 2006
Learn how to maximize your energy-related rebates and other incentives from utilities, governments and other agencies.

RealWinWin is an energy demand reduction and rebate administration specialist that works with large building portfolios to maximize their energy efficiency and earn substantial energy-related rebates and other incentives from utilities, governments and other agencies.

  1. Know Who Is Eligible. Most incentive programs send checks to the party whose name appears on the utility bill, and this can cause confusion during construction and renovation projects. For example, what if you hire a contractor to build a store, and the temporary electric meter is in the contractor’s name instead of yours?  In cases like this, submit an affidavit—signed by all parties—to the utility company or other funding source, along with your initial rebate application. The affidavit should explain who should receive the incentive and why, and certify that no party will challenge that allocation. In addition, when preparing agreements with your contractors, specify that they must cooperate with you or your agents to obtain any available incentives.
  2. Avoid Undisclosed Incentives. In certain jurisdictions, third parties can apply for incentives related to a project without informing the building owner. Understand which programs are available to any stakeholder involved in the project, so you can take these monies into account when negotiating pricing with your contractors, architects, manufacturers, distributors, and others.
  3. Compare Programs to Maximize Your Incentives. For most building projects, you can only choose a single incentive program from the many you may be eligible for. Choose the most lucrative. For example, if you choose a program that requires Measurement and Verification (M&V), your incentive could be much higher than a program that uses a Deemed Savings approach.
  4. Invest Engineering Expertise Upfront. Simply designing “to code” isn’t enough to maximize either energy efficiency or rebate eligibility. Invest in the engineering expertise necessary to earn you every possible rebate—you’ll save on life-cycle costs, too. In some jurisdictions, the cost of this upfront engineering itself can be subsidized. In addition, talk to utility companies and other funding sources about custom incentive programs. Your project may be eligible for rebates that aren’t offered by their standard incentive programs.
  5. Specify Proper Configuration. Some incentive programs take a prescriptive approach, meaning they pay a certain amount per qualifying component. Others take a performance approach, meaning they only pay if you exceed certain efficiency standards. Be sure to understand how the incentive is earned prior to specifying your equipment. For example, if you install highly efficient lighting fixtures too close together, you could exceed a rebate program’s maximum watts per square foot, making the project ineligible for incentives.
  6. Ensure All Specifications Remain Eligible. Even short construction projects can be eligible for incentives. But rebate requirements can change between the time you spec, purchase, and install equipment for a project. Stay on top of these potential changes. If a utility tightens incentive eligibility requirements between the time you plan a project and the time you actually install the equipment, that equipment may no longer qualify for the subsidy you were hoping to receive to help pay for it.
  7. Fine-Tune Your Specifications. Many construction specs include language that lets bidders substitute ‘equivalent’ equipment, when necessary. Ensure these substitutions don’t reduce your efficiency and rebate eligibility. For example, by substituting a less efficient HVAC unit, you can lose the incentive the original unit might have been eligible for, suffer higher operating costs, and lose any deposit that might have accompanied the incentive application for the original unit.
  8. Verify the Accuracy of Third-Party Filing Input. Incentive programs are designed to motivate levels of performance above what is required by local building codes. Ensure all third-parties involved in the project are clear on this, because some rebate applications request input from your architecture and engineering (A&E) team to verify eligibility. Your A&E team could misunderstand the purpose of that request, and simply forward the forms used to document code compliance—even though the project’s efficiency might have exceeded that standard. In such a case, the utility company would reject the application for an incentive that you actually deserved.
  9. File For Rebates As Early As Possible. Some incentive programs remain open all year, and others roll over each year with little change to filing requirements or funding levels. However, many others are flexible. For example, one program in the Southwest recently allocated its entire 2005 budget just hours after it became available. Any incentive program can experience a sudden loss of funding. Stay on top of the filing dates for all programs you might be eligible for, and file early, so you don’t miss any big opportunities.
  10. Document Inspection Changes. Most programs must be advised of construction projects before they start, so they can allocate funds and schedule pre-construction inspections to verify that your new equipment will, indeed, be more efficient than the old.   In cases where these inspections aren’t possible, however, utility companies sometimes agree to visit the site during—or even after—demolition, provided that some of the old equipment is preserved for inspection. Document any such accommodations, because if the utility changes its mind after demolition is over, the incentive will be lost.
  11. Connect Purchases with Incentive Approvals. Many incentive programs are designed to influence the selection of certain energy efficient equipment. They typically stipulate, however, that this equipment can only be purchased after the incentive is approved, and leave it to you to prove it. Since it’s often necessary to place orders for equipment in advance of construction, good communication with the utility company or funding source is key. Engage them at the earliest stages of the project, to establish the cause-and-effect of being approved for the incentive and ordering your equipment.
  12. Carefully Plan and Monitor the M&V Process. More generous incentives are often available to projects that can document efficiency over time. Large HVAC replacements, for example, must have their pre- and post-installation loads verified under specific seasonal conditions. It is imperative to carefully plan and schedule these monitoring points with the funding source before they occur. If mistakes are made, and the right conditions aren’t met, the incentive could be doomed.
  13. Trust Experts to Maximize Your Incentives. Some organizations believe they can force their vendors and contractors to provide incentive processing services as a condition for winning a bid. But rebate processing is probably not the vendor/contractor’s core business, especially when it comes to performing the technical and operational assessments necessary to maximize incentives for you. It is a lose-lose situation to require a vendor/contractor to absorb the cost of finding incentives, filing rebate paperwork, staying on top of utility companies, and more. It better serves everyone’s needs to outsource this function to a rebate processing firm.

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