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Monday, December 5, 2011

NYSERDA Boosts Contractors, Creates a Skilled Clean Energy Workforce

By Elizabeth Silleck, Westchester Business Journal

The story of BrightHome Energy Solutions, LLC (BrightHome) exemplifies NYSERDA's success in supporting small business growth and workforce development in the clean energy field.


Mike Brown, Partner, Bright Home Energy Solutions from Elizabeth Silleck on Vimeo.


New Yorkers know the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) best for injecting millions of dollars into the state economy for direct support of clean energy projects in buildings and homes. While NYSERDA continues to provide funding for retrofits, energy efficient  construction and renewable energy installations, it might get less attention for its other efforts — namely, business and workforce development. The story of BrightHome Energy Solutions, LLC (BrightHome) exemplifies NYSERDA’s success in supporting small-business growth and workforce development in the clean energy field.

In the midst of a struggling economy, business is good at BrightHome.  Since 2009, the company has created 30 jobs in Westchester County. As a result, the county has 30 formerly unemployed people who have steady income and possible career prospects in the clean energy sector.

One of those jobs went to a disadvantaged worker who received NYSERDA-funded workforce development training at the Osborne Association. BrightHome also hired employees through workforce development initiatives of the Westchester/Putnam Workforce Investment Board, Sustainable South Bronx and WestCOP.

A key ingredient to BrightHome’s success is its participation in NYSERDA’s Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® program, which requires participating contractors to be accredited by the Building Performance Institute (BPI).

“Home Performance training really gave us a foundation for doing energy efficiency work and enabled us to measure the results,” explained Mike Brown, partner at BrightHome.

Home Performance training teaches contractors to view the house as a system, understanding that changes to one part of the home can and do affect the home’s performance overall. As Brown explained, “It’s all about how things interact with each other — we see this house as a living organism with a life span. We want to figure out how to make it last as long as possible.”

One essential diagnostic strategy used by Home Performance contractors is the Comprehensive Home Assessment, which uncovers health, safety and energy-usage data used to determine appropriate energy-saving improvements. NYSERDA is currently offsetting the cost of Comprehensive Home Assessments to homeowners across the state, so contractors like BrightHome can provide them for free or at reduced cost, depending on the homeowner’s income.

In addition, NYSERDA supports a network of training sites across the state and reimburses half the cost of BPI technician certification. Depending on available funding, additional training incentives may be available for certain regions. NYSERDA also helps contractors ramp up their businesses by assisting with initial equipment costs and by providing co-operative marketing dollars.

“Last year alone, NYSERDA reimbursed us about $9,000 toward our marketing activities. We’ve invested in newspaper ads, television, website banners and signage on our vehicles,” Brown remarked.

Once a contractor has successfully obtained BPI accreditation and is approved to participate in NYSERDA’s Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® Program, the contractor’s clients have access to cash incentives, low-interest financing and, for those who are income-eligible, direct subsidies of up to 50 percent of project costs. NYSERDA’s customer incentives are vital to BrightHome’s business.

“Between the financing at 3.49 percent interest and the cash incentives, I have one client right now who is investing in insulation, air sealing, a high-efficiency heating unit and air conditioning system with no out-of-pocket cost. What’s more, the projected energy cost savings will offset the annual loan payments,” said Brown.

BrightHome was formed exclusively as a Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® contractor, but many participants in the program had already been in business for years as home improvement contractors before signing up with NYSERDA. A full list of participating contractors can be found at www.nyserda.ny.gov. You’ll always want to do your homework before engaging any contractor.

BrightHome’s experience with NYSERDA is an example of a public/private partnership that is achieving measurable results. The business is growing, and formerly unemployed people have jobs working on projects that reduce energy use.

For more information about how to become a participating Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® contractor or general questions about NYSERDA, contact your local Energy $mart Communities Coordinator at Elizabeth.Silleck@gmail.com.

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