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Does the idea of free money sound too good to be true? It might seem implausible that someone would give you money to help improve your building, but NYSERDA wants to do just that. In return for making your building more energy efficient, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority is offering a host of cash incentives and interest rate reductions to help finance energy-efficient projects. Established in 1975 as a public benefit corporation, NYSERDA and its New York Energy Smart Program seek to promote energy efficiency.

With the cost of fuel increasing dramatically, now is the time to examine your building for ways to cut back on costs. If you’re interested in retrofitting your entire building or if there is a specific energy-saving project you’d like to consider undertaking (high-efficiency lighting, converting to submetering), NYSERDA probably has an applicable financial assistance program. Although it may seem a little daunting, the possible short- and long-term savings can be worth the effort.

Three programs available for multifamily homes include the Residential Technical Assistance Program (ResTech), the Energy Smart Loan Fund, and the Assisted Multifamily Program (AMP). All are available to multifamily buildings of five units and up throughout New York State. The initial application process is simple. All applications are downloadable from NYSERDA’s easy-to-navigate website (www.getenergysmart.org) and are no more than two pages long. You can also request them toll-free from 1-866-NYSERDA. NYSERDA guarantees a swift response to your application, generally within a day.

ResTech. Looking for all the ways your building can save money by being energy efficient? NYSERDA’s Residential Technical Assistance Program connects you with qualified firms to have your entire building evaluated and will subsidize half the cost of the assessment. Once you’re in touch with ResTech, you’ll be provided with a list of NYSERDA-approved technical assistance contractors who can submit proposals. Your chosen contractor will then proceed with a complete energy audit of your building. Some of the projects typically evaluated include: boiler and water-heater replacement; appliance replacement; insulation, duct-sealing, and weather-stripping; air-conditioning; ventilation; advanced metering and submetering; energy-efficient window installations; electric-resistance heat replacement; and efficient motors installation.

From this evaluation, the contractor produces a “workscope,” or report card, of your building, identifying all the areas where improvements can be implemented, what needs to be done, and how much energy will be saved. If you choose to move forward with the contractor’s recommendations, you’ll be eligible for a full refund of the cost of the assessment, and the ResTech team will provide assistance in financial planning for the project(s) to be completed and let you know the incentives you may be eligible for.

Le Havre Owners, a 32-building, 1,024-unit cooperative in Queens, currently poised to perform a multimillion-dollar building envelope renovation and window replacement project, lauds ResTech’s hands-on assistance. Says director of operations Tony Naglieri: “Mike [Le Havre’s NYSERDA project specialist] really went out of his way to come by in the evening to meet our board members. This saved our management office a great deal of time in regard to follow-up questions that the board had the night of the meeting.”

However, there are stipulations for obtaining your rebate. Project costs must be equal to or greater than the cost of the audit and you must complete the project within two years before you can request your refund. But once approved, you’ll receive your money within 30 days.
Occasionally, there are bumps. After their ResTech audit, one co-op board felt that the list of projects NYSERDA required them to complete in order to receive their incentive money was too long. “It seemed like the rules were basically all or none,” recalls the building’s manager, “so we decided against going forward with the proposals.” Notes NYSERDA New York City outreach coordinator Dean Zias: “Buildings have to do a certain minimum amount of work to justify all the incentives, but they do not have to do all of the recommendations. Obviously, if you do more recommendations, you’re going to save more money.”

Energy Smart Loan Fund. So you’ve identified some energy-efficient projects independently or through ResTech, and are applying for a loan to finance them. You may be eligible for low-interest loans under the Energy Smart Loan Fund program up to a four percent reduction off a participating lender’s interest rate. Many types of projects may qualify, including projects that are proven to be cost-effective investments that reduce energy use; those that pay for themselves within ten years through reduced energy cost; measures that reduce manufacturing energy use on a cost-per-unit basis; and renewable technologies that use the sun, wind, water, or ground to generate heat or power.

To be eligible for an interest rate reduction, you must provide necessary documentation of an eligible project, receive a loan commitment from a participating lender, and be an electric distribution customer with an electric bill that includes a System Benefits Charge assessment. A list of participating lenders and qualifying electricity providers can be found at www.nyserda.org/loanfund. After applying, you’ll be contacted by NYSERDA and your lender who will lead you through the loan process, which can take as long as six months. The interest rate reductions are offered for loan terms up to ten years for amounts of $5,000 per unit, or up to $2.5 million per borrower, plus an addition of up to $2.5 million for advanced metering projects.

Assisted Multifamily Program. For low-income and publicly assisted multifamily buildings, the Assisted Multifamily Program features a range of incentives for energy-efficient improvements, similar to free-market programs, but with greatly increased incentives. Like ResTech, AMP offers the same technical and financial assistance services but at a much higher subsidized amount. For example, a 175-unit AMP building would pay $500 for the same services for which a 175-unit free-market building under ResTech would pay $9,000. To be eligible, you must demonstrate that the average tenant income of your building is no more than 80 percent of the state median and that you pay the system benefits charge.

Before you can apply, you must contact the local case manager in your area who is there to guide you through the entire process. When your application goes through, AMP will conduct an energy assessment and work with you to determine how your building will finance the project and to which incentive programs you have access. On top of this, AMP offers “gap grants” to cover the difference – if there is one – between how much your property can contribute and the cost of the project. The stipulations are, understandably, more strict. AMP requires continuous oversight of the project by its team and three years of energy-monitoring afterward.

Village View Housing, a seven-building, 1,236-unit Mitchell-Lama cooperative development in Manhattan’s East Village, recently underwent a $12 million overhaul, which included laundry appliance upgrades and boiler, window, and lighting-fixture replacements, as well as non-NYSERDA-funded work. Village View received $1.1 million in gap grant money as well as an interest rate reduction on a $5 million loan. Tal Eyal, president of Cooper Square Project Management, who oversaw the project, calls Village View’s experience with AMP “a success,” with the exception of an AMP-required elevator motorization upgrade where initial estimates of the project fell short of the actual price (in the end, NYSERDA waived the project when it was found economically unfeasible) and a frustrating experience with the installation of monitors in the boilers. But, overall, Eyal is pleased, noting: “The whole idea of NYSERDA is phenomenal – that there’s some entity that financially rewards you for doing the right thing is a positive direction.”

Clinton Hill Apartments, a 1,221-unit co-op in Brooklyn received $400,000 from another one of NYSERDA’s programs: the Comprehensive Energy Management program, which offers cash incentives for the installation of submeters. Observes John Dew, board president: “We found the whole process to be relatively simple and pain-free. NYSERDA was extremely helpful throughout the process and easy to work with.”

Village View is looking to begin a second phase of upgrades in the near future. “Submetering will probably be the next project and we’d like to upgrade the electric,” says Eyal. “We will definitely apply for NYSERDA funding when that time comes.”

Funding for certain programs is available on a first-come, first-served basis through June 30, 2006, or until funds are fully committed, although future funding is anticipated to become available. For additional information, contact NYSERDA’s New York City outreach coordinator, Dean Zias, at (718) 399-4416.

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