By Jamie Johnson
In the modern competitive business environment, competition is fierce. Even though the economy is soaring, business owners and building operators face uncertainty in how tariffs will impact our businesses, the struggle to find great employees in such a strong job market, and the challenges of staying top of mind to customers.
Occasionally, you will stumble across a real gem that gives you an edge on the competition. I have experienced this in the form of early Small Business Development grants, tax benefits from hiring veterans, and co-working space that helped me get my business started. I am grateful for these opportunities, and always on the lookout for these.
My business finds energy rebates for our commercial clients — in fact, my entire business model is dependent on this resource. In Illinois, the energy rebate program spending tops $400 million annually and is quite impactful in our local economy. Not only do the rebate programs save businesses on their electric and gas bills through efficiency measures, but they also create a lot of jobs locally.
Across the United States, the majority of states have some sort of energy rebate program and are created to help reduce the energy burden of businesses. You can find these by contacting your local gas or electric utility, or asking neighboring business if they have participated in these programs and have any recommendations.
Here are three secrets building operators can access to maximize savings from energy rebate programs.
1. Focus On Future Savings
Just like any state driven program, these rebate programs are imperfect in design. They often go through periods of offering “no cost” or “free” aspects to their portfolio. Don’t get distracted by these, but definitely do take advantage of them.
Many businesses will just take advantage of the free items, and pass on other program offerings that could truly benefit their business in the long run savings. Or even worse, they will focus on the lowest cost project that they can find.
Focus on a good project that will deliver savings off your energy bill, both electric and gas savings. Anything that will pay for itself through savings in one to two years should be considered, and a longer period of time can be justified if they are delivering added benefits (such as comfort or security). Typically, interior and exterior lighting, heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), and refrigeration are the big opportunities.
Don’t neglect to ask about roof, windows, and air compressor savings. While these will often have longer paybacks, there are reasons to consider those upgrades outside of energy efficiency.
The reason these programs exist are to save energy, so the more you focus on saving energy, the higher rebates and value you will receiver. To boot, the higher savings products will typically have higher incentives tied to them, helping you make the investment and commitment to saving energy.
2. Find A Partner That Aligns With Your Goals
Most rebate programs depend on contractors to help deliver the customer experience. When you are looking for a partner to help you implement the rebate programs, look for someone who aligns with your mission for your organization.
While this can be hard to articulate, look at the website and marketing material for the vendor you are considering. Give them a call and see how responsive they are; test their knowledge of the industry and how they communicate to you. You have a choice in who you pick to work with you, so make sure you are aligned with that service provider.
Often utility rebate programs will have awards and recognition. Ask your potential service provider if they have won any recognition or awards. You are not looking for someone to brag, but instead, some sort of outside validation that they are immersed in the rebate programs. Rebate programs are complicated and you want to pick a vendor that understands these nuances, and has been recognized for their efforts.
A few questions you should ask before you chose a service provider:
- What is your warranty on the materials provided?
- What is the warranty on the labor provided?
- Who receives the rebate from the utility, you or the service provider?
- What happens if the rebate is lower than expected?
- What hours of operations were used in the savings calculations
- What is the expected life of the product?
- Do you offer any payment plans and, if so, what interest rates are involved?
3. Look for Service Providers That Cater To Utility Programs
Many of the utility rebate programs have gotten large enough that they have companies dedicating a large amount of their business to these programs, if not all of their business. This is important for two reasons.
First, rebate programs are complicated and have a lot of rules and nuances. By picking a partner that depends on these programs, they will really need to know the ins and outs of the program to survive. They will find ways to maximize the rebates, which will minimize your out of pocket cost.
Secondly, they will have more to lose if they are performing unethically or with poor customer service. Since their business is built around the utility rebate programs, they will be very sensitive to any complaints to the utility.
After you participate in the energy rebate program, don’t be afraid to call and compliment a partner to the utility, and also don’t hesitate to complain if you are not happy with their performance. You’ll help the next organization that participates in the rebate program have a better opportunity for success if you share your experience.
Johnson founded Verde Energy Efficiency Experts in 2010 with the mission to find and implement energy efficiency savings for customers in unexpected places within their business. Located in Chicago, IL, Verde continues to grow its diverse offerings to businesses in order to provide solutions to lower operating costs and improve their triple bottom line.