Efficiency First hosts Energy Upgrade California Update

Posted by Pat Colburn on April 01, 2011
I was told to expect fireworks at the Efficiency First (EF) San Francisco Bay Area Chapter Meeting held on February 24th and although there were no explosions, the cannons were loaded and the fuses were primed. It’s been a tough couple of years for contractors; receiving only promises from program implementers, spending limited financial capital and time for the training required to participate in a program that has only just begun.

At this EF SF Chapter meeting on Energy Upgrade California (EUC) we saw a flicker of hope. Nick Harris of Energy Beyond Design and EF Bay Area Chapter Chair, noted that for over a year we’ve been told that a Energy Upgrade California marketing campaign will have everyone clamoring for an energy upgrade…and finally there was a EUC commercial on March 1.

While it’s understood that this is a huge program with many moving parts, it’s been frustrating for contractors waiting for the promised marketing and support. Chris Cone, EF North Bay Chapter Chair and Implementation Manager of Sonoma County’s Climate Protection Campaign explained that bringing local and state government, utilities and contractors together to create a market transformation is unprecedented.

But contractors aren’t accomplishing all they need to do either. Jeff Gleason, manager of the team that runs the EUC program for PG&E admits that the combustion safety issues have been challenging. They are finding that some test-ins are not being done and combustion safety tests are being conducted only at the conclusion of the job. He emphasized that combustion safety tests must be done any time the air pressure of the house has changed whether through added air, duct sealing or insulation. If an accident occurred it would be hard to keep this program going.

Software has been an ongoing issue. Energy Pro is not as user-friendly as some would like and many would rather use the Recurve software which has not yet been approved by the California Energy Commission (CEC). Both are expensive and time consuming. Matt Golden, Recurve, and Founder of Efficiency First, hopes to have his software accepted by the CEC in the near term. PG&E cannot use rate payer funds to subsidize the cost of software, and Jeff Gleason suggested that comments concerning software functionality issues be sent to the California Building Performance Contractors Association. Although the CEC is currently deliberating the differences between Recurve’s software and that of Energy Pro, contractors can use Recurve software for the PG&E program.

Several contractors asked how they could get the CEC to understand what contractors are doing. Contractors are frustrated and want to move this program faster. Mindy Craig, of MIG, a consulting firm providing marketing for the EUC says the CEC is launching a steering committee to coordinate the Home Energy Retrofit Coordinating Committee (HERCC), a group of city, county, state government officials and consultants who have been meeting for almost two years to develop the EUC process, to figure out what’s going on. I just hope they can figure it out before the money’s gone.

While it’s apparent that the consultants and PG&E don’t want contractors to participate in their program development meetings, Efficiency First will host contractor conference calls every 2 weeks and send the suggestions to PG&E who will pass them along to the CEC. Watch for the notice from EF. For all of you who operate in or around Sonoma County, the county has conducted a job gap analysis and they need more contractors. Contact Chris Cone for more information.

There’s an alphabet soup of agencies and consultants working on the EUC: Association of Bay Area Governments, IOU’s, CBPCA, Build It Green, AECOM, Draftfcb, HMG, BKI, Stop, city and county agencies, MIG, Allison & Partners, Ecology Action, and Renewable Funding are but a few. There are plenty of jobs being created here but they’re mostly white collar jobs. The consulting firms will be developing the media outreach and coordinating with utilities and local governments. They are also developing other partners such as local retailers, Realtor associations and community-based organizations.

Marketing will include radio & online, bus shelters, TV ads, buses & BART ads. Brochures, posters, lawn signs, door hangers are in development. MIG will work with contractors to develop tools for contractors including branding guidelines, resource library, contractor marketing kits, communication tool kit, and lawn signs. Some templates for contractors are available now in the password protected section for approved contractors. An Affiliate section is being developed. MIG will be proposing that the CEC fund cooperative advertising. Efficiency First has also been requested to help MIG develop the language and graphics for a leave-behind which will be available to contractors on the EUC website Ecology Action is heading up the statewide program as the prime administrator along with Renewable Funding which will provide a one stop for financing & quality assurance. Ecology Action also manages the homeowner section of the EUC website while Renewable Funding handles the contractor section.

Two years into this program and there still aren’t enough trained contractors and marketing is just beginning. I’m reminded of a Robert B. Fuller quote: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” We’re fighting an existing reality…a reality of bureaucracy. It’s time to build a new model that will work Right Now. We’ve been advised not to sell energy efficiency on the rebates alone, so we can’t let the snail’s pace of the EUC drag us down; we can’t wait for someone else to do our marketing.

Celia Canfield, of EcoVertex, advised contractors to take advantage of their skills and knowledge by making presentations to local organizations. Your trade association, Efficiency First, is now developing a power point presentation for use by it’s members. A speaker’s bureau and a “How to do a Presentation 101” class are in the works.

Pat Colburn, formerly Director of Support Services for the CBPCA, also has a background in project management, lighting retrofits and solid waste/recycling.

For a related discussion on Energy Upgrade California, join the Energy Upgrade group on Home Energy Pros.

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