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Green Jobs Green New York off to a slow start

Matt Richmond

The walls around Pat Dundon's desk are slowly filling up with white printouts. Some have the letterhead of the state's energy research organization NYSERDA, and others are lists he's created.

His involvement in a program called Green Jobs Green New York has produced all this paperwork. Through the program, NYSERDA offers low-interest loans for energy efficiency upgrades.

In January 2012*, an on-bill financing option was added for homeowners making energy improvements. At the end of July, a total of $16.7 million had been approved in loans; $1.3 million of that total was for on-bill financing loans.

That's when Dundon, a Binghamton-area contractor, began filling his wall with cheat sheets.

Contractors have to show that a proposed job will pay itself off in future energy savings before NYSERDA will approve the loan.

So that means they have to prove to a software program called Targeted Retrofit Energy Analysis Tool, or TREAT, that the customer will actually benefit from getting the work done.

"This whole wall here is all work-arounds for TREAT," says Dundon.

And the software needs every last detail.

It wants to know the measurements for all the outside walls and floor and ceilings in the house. It wants to know how much energy is used for all the appliances in the house, and it's requirements don't always match the real world.

"It asks, if you have secondary heat, and you have a space heater, electric space heater, it wants the amount of BTUs** the space heater puts out," says Dundon. 

"Well, an electric space heater is not set up in BTUs, it’s set up in kilowatt hours or watts. So now we gotta figure out a workaround, the math to go from watts to BTUs to use that space heater."

And so on for hundreds of lines of data from every homeowner that comes to Dundon, before the project gets approved.

According to Dundon, the process from when a customer first calls to when the job gets done, if everything goes smoothly, takes about six weeks. The actual work at a customer's house: two or three days.

Green Jobs Green New York

A 2009 study by the consulting firm McKinsey and Company concluded that the U.S. could, by the end of this decade, eliminate about $1.2 trillion in wasted energy every year.

The next year, New York started its Green Jobs Green New York program. Eventually, $112 million was pledged to help building owners improve their energy efficiency.

The next year, an on-bill financing option was added. At the end of July, a total of $16.7 million had been approved in loans, but only $1.3 million of that total was for on-bill financing loans.

NYSERDA spokeswoman Dayle Zatlin says the program is right on pace.

There is no deadline for spending the $112 million budget. The loans come from a revolving fund so all the money coming in as customers pay off the loans will go back out as new loans.

But she says they are working on ways to make the approval process easier for contractors.

"As a matter of fact, we agree with installers that there is a need to minimize paperwork and delays and we have been taking steps to do so," says Zatlin.

Some of the spreadsheets in TREAT have been streamlined and they've simplified the credit application process, says Zatlin.

But she adds that NYSERDA's first priority is to make sure building owners aren't being sold projects that won't actually save them money.

"We’re a public-benefit corporation so our job is to do work that is for the public good and so we basically have to keep consumers in mind and make sure that they are protected with any program that we offer," says Zatlin.

Anyone interested in starting the energy efficiency upgrade process can contact Adam Flint with Cornell Cooperative Extension at flint@igc.org

* This post has been corrected since first publication. An earlier iteration had incorrectly said that the on-bill system was introduced in 2010.

(**BTU means British Thermal Unit, a measurement of heat generated by any burning material.)

WSKG/Southern Tier reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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