One thing that will not change, says a NYSERDA spokesperson, is its partner list. Any building looking to make energy improvements will need a guide who is knowledgeable about the changing landscape. Selecting the right partner could mean the difference between a seamless operation and a quagmire.
"NYSERDA partners are very good at doing clean energy projects," says Michael Colgrove, the director of energy programs at NYSERDA. "They can help you navigate NYSERDA's programs, whatever they may look like now and in the future."
But not all partners are equal and neither are all apartment buildings. A partner who is familiar with large rental buildings, for example, might have little experience handling the delicate politics of a co-op or condo board.
Making the Cut
Not anyone can become a NYSERDA partner. The agency accepts applications from prospective partners every three months. To qualify, an applicant must have experience in the multifamily sector, in conducting audits, and in working and advising on other projects. They have to provide case studies and references. If an applicant is selected, new inductees must attend a daylong orientation session that covers the nuts and bolts of NYSERDA programs. After a new partner completes the orientation, the company is allowed to bring in a single project on a provisional basis. It is closely monitored.
"They really want people who have done energy audits for a long time and have documented savings," says Lewis M. Kwit, president of Energy Investment Systems.
If a condo or co-op wants to participate in NYSERDA's multifamily performance program, it must pair up with a partner. Although NYSERDA does not play matchmaker, it does try to streamline the process. Visitors to the agency's website can narrow down the choices by county, building size and type, and the types of projects the building is considering. With this information, the website delivers a tailored list of potential partners. And the vetting begins here.
In many ways, finding a good partner is much like finding any vendor for a capital improvement project. Is the partner familiar with your type of building? Is the company familiar with the types of projects your building wants to do? Does the company have good references? Above all, a board should have a firm idea of what it wants. If the building has lofty goals to add solar panels and wind turbines, it should seek out a partner experienced with those types of projects.
"The co-op or the condo board needs to really get down to what its objectives are," says Frank Lauricella, an independent consultant who works with NYSERDA partners. "What are their goals?"
Know Your Building
Different buildings have different cultures. Some have a laundry list of go-to vendors who can overhaul an HVAC system or insulate walls. Others would prefer a partner who can suggest the right match.
Another thing to consider is financing. Some buildings have deep reserves, but many will have to consider lines of credit, mortgages, or assessments to pay for costly projects.
As incentives dry up, buildings are going to have to reassess why they are undertaking these energy improvements. Is it to meet city goals for energy efficiency? Or is it to reduce maintenance costs? Or does the answer lie somewhere in between? Some members of the clean energy industry argue that the incentives have long been a distraction, directing buildings to the biggest rebate check and not the best long-term choice for an individual building.
"I don't believe that when you deal with a building that needs to save energy that your driver should be whatever incentive program NYSERDA has at the time," says Kwit. Instead, a building should make choices that set it on a course for long-term savings. Finding a partner who can help steer the ship can make the difference.
Adapted from "The Incentive Game" by Ronda Kaysen (Habitat, April 2015).
Co-op and condo board business broken down into bite-sized bits - 2 stories each week. Read now on all digital devices.
A free digital resource for co-op/condo board directors. Published twice a month. Read now on all digital devices.