Energy rebates: Get what's coming to you

By some estimates, there are still $6 billion in rebates and other incentives to help fund energy-efficiency initiatives in the private and public sector.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

Later today, I'm sure that we'll all be scrutinizing the anticipated news today out of the White House that could result in up to $50 billion in research and development tax credits for businesses investing in new plants and equipment -- a big positive for companies seeking to improve their energy efficiency or, maybe, even put in place greener manufacturing or supply chain processes. But why wait? There are already billions of dollars in rebates available for those of you investing in energy efficiency efforts for your data centers or facilities. The trick is figuring out what you're eligible to claim, and that's where finding a good energy services company could be invaluable.

Derek Schwartz, executive director and founder of the Green Data Center Alliance, figures there are roughly $6 billion in state rebates still available for funding things like server consolidation projects or facilities upgrades. In New York alone, he points out, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) is working with a pool of $680 million for various residential and commercial upgrades. "Most people don't know the money is there," Schwartz says.

For an illustration of how your company could use this money, consider the case of ESRI, a developer of geographic information software. I spoke in late June with John Parker, the data center operations manager for the company, about the company's server consolidation project, a project that was focused not just on cutting ESRI's electric bill but also on driving other operational efficiencies in its data center. Somewhere along the way, Parker's team paused to have an outside engineering firm come in to perform a baseline audit. This $50,000 audit was covered by his company's utility, Southern California Edison, which is looking for ways to help its customers reduce their power consumption. What's more, that company also evaluated some of the technology that ESRI was considering. Ultimately, ESRI was able to cover about half the data center project upgrade costs with rebate money, Parker says. The main inconvenience to him and his team was/is getting the greenlight for the equipment it wanted to buy and the ongoing documentation it needs to provide demonstrating energy saving.

Of course you could always have someone do this for you. Given all this activity, a class of companies called ESCOs (or Energy Services Companies) has, understandably, been getting more active. This year especially, I've been pitched by dozens of them. They range from giants like Schneider Electric and Honeywell, both of which are working on all sorts of public sector projects, to smaller firms hailing from the facilities management world.

"Our energy team has captured pockets of money at the state, local and federal level that are ready to be spent," says Jim Embley, CEO of Rubicon Professional Services, one of the facilities management companies that has moved into the energy management space. Embley says companies and communities should seek partners who operate on a pay for performance basis and that don't string your team along with no demonstrable results.

You'll find that many of the government projects are structure that way. An example is the $18.5 million contract that Schneider Electric just signed with the General Services Administration in Region 7 in Texas. The project, which covers 16 federal buildings, will cover upgrades designed to make the buildings more energy efficienct and that allow them to use renewable energy. The GSA is using American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds plus private sector funding to pay for the improvements, which are supposed to result in $4.7 million in savings over five years along with a 14 percent energy savings.

Under the energy savings performance contract, Schneider Electric is on the hook to pay the different if that amount is not realized.

The list of energy services companies qualified for federal work was just updated. That list should also provide leads for commercial projects, if you are from the private sector.

Either way, have you figured out whether your organization is getting its fair share of the vast -- but shrinking -- pool of energy efficiency incentives.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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