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The how and why of inspections for BC Hydro business incentives

Image of a worker performing an inspection while carrying a tablet computer
Inspections of projects completed with BC Hydro's BESI program help ensure that incentive dollars are used effectively.

What to expect from pre- and post-upgrade BESI inspections

As part of BC Hydro's Business Energy Savings Incentives program, projects are randomly selected for pre and post site inspections. The expertise provided by Alliance members can play a pivotal role in making those inspections routine and worry-free.

"Inspection is easy and quite seamless, and our turnaround times are very quick for contacting the customer," says Paul Seo, a senior program manager at BC Hydro. "All we ask is that Alliance members pay close attention to the quantity of products and the configurations. If they do that, the inspections should go smoothly."

We recently sat down with Seo and Charlotte Douglas, director of business operations with the company that does the inspections (It's On Electric), to tackle some common questions and offer tips around inspections.

Why inspections are done, and how projects are selected

"By default, we're using ratepayer dollars for the incentives, so for us to ensure we're getting what we're paying out for, we need to validate that the project submissions are accurate," says Seo. "Like any organization, we have checks and balances in place."

In other words, BC Hydro only pays for product upgrades that will deliver on qualified energy savings specified by the program. It's all about the right product in the right configuration, and each upgrade must match the specifics of the application.

Projects are selected for inspection by an algorithm that randomly selects a project for inspection. The majority of projects go ahead – with incentives paid out – without pre and post inspections.

How inspections are scheduled, and how long they'll take

BC Hydro has worked with It's On Electric to ensure this part is seamless. Once the customer and/or Alliance member are given notice that a project has been flagged for inspection, the turnaround for the inspection can be as quick as a day.

"It's typically one business day," says Seo. "We'll base our scheduling on the customer's availability for that inspection, so if they're not immediately available, we'll just schedule it for a later time that is convenient for them."

How long does the inspection take? With smaller businesses, the site visit and inspection can take as little as 30 minutes, depending on the size of the business and the number of products specified in the application. Most inspections are done in under an hour.

Tip! If you want an exact time, make it first thing in the morning

Douglas says that while her company (It's On Electric) is typically flexible with scheduling inspections, the early bird gets the most precise appointment.

"If you need a specific time, then I recommend you schedule for the first appointment of the day," she says. "We can start as early as 7 a.m.

"If we're scheduling mid-day, then we're at the mercy of traffic conditions as we navigate between inspections."

Douglas also recommends scheduling visits for non-peak times for your business. Inspectors don't want to get in the way.

Tip! Attend inspections, and get copied on communications

Seo highly recommends that Alliance members take the time to be there for the inspection. You're the subject matter expert, and you will be able to guide the inspector around the site to ensure everything in the application is accounted for.

The trick is to get your customer to provide consent to be advised of all communications around projects, including notification that an inspection needs to be done. That consent is done by selecting a button, at the Terms & Conditions stage of the original online application, that ensures an Alliance member will be included in all future communications, via system-generated email.

Once an inspection notification goes out, BC Hydro works on an inspection date and time that works to accommodate the schedules of both the customer and the Alliance member.

Inspections check for quantity and configuration

The vast majority of inspections that find inaccuracies with the project application find inconsistencies between either the number of products in the application, or the configuration of those products.

"For example, when a customer selects 100 products for an A-to-B incentive for lighting, we may find only 70 of that A-to-B configuration on site," says Seo. "Inspectors would then go online and reduce the quantity to 70 from 100, and email would go out to the customer asking: Do you accept the change to 70, or do you want to resubmit the application?"

This is where it really helps save time and reduce stress to have the Alliance member at the inspection. Without that, a customer may need to call the Alliance member to find out why there's an inconsistency.

Another common correction is around configuration. Sometimes a mix of lighting might – for simplicity's sake – be incorrectly identified as all the same. Here's an example:

In a warehouse area with a mix of 360W and 400W metal halide lamps, the application identifies all lamps as 400W. Upon inspection, it's found that 25 are actually 360W and 25 are 400W, and the inspectors update the application to show that only 25, 400W metal halide lamps are there. When the application is sent back to you and the customer to review, you then have the opportunity to revise the application to add in 25 360W metal halides. Alternatively, if you and the customer accept the application as revised by the inspectors, the incentive will be reduced based on the lower energy savings.

Tip! Be careful with the initial application, and don't estimate

Inspections go smoothly when members take care to detail (and check) everything in the application, including the number and configuration of products, where the project is, and which floors/rooms are involved.

"Don't guess on configurations," says It's On Electric's Douglas. "Don't round up, or estimate numbers, or include lamps purchased for "extra stock."

When filling out the application, take care to include your facility type and location, and hours of operation.

Tip! Provide detailed specs, especially for hard-to-reach lighting

For pre-site inspections, Douglas says it can really help to provide more detailed information than what was in the application. "This information can greatly ease the inspection process in being able to find the configurations applied for," she says. "This is especially useful in exterior signage projects."

For configurations not reachable by ladder, such as high-bay lighting, it's handy to have a lamp for that configuration available to help establish the baseline for that upgrade.

"For post-site inspections, having spec sheets of the new configurations installed is especially useful for lighting that is unreachable by ladder," she adds. "And for both pre- and post- site inspections, having someone that is familiar with the project, or on phone support if any questions arise, is helpful."

Why purchases for inventory and/or maintenance aren't covered

It makes sense that customers take advantage of bulk buys on products as part of a BESI project to boost their inventory of replacement products for use down the road. But the project declaration to BC Hydro can't include those inventory items – only those products installed as part of that project are available for incentive.

"It can't count as an incentive because the savings aren't there as they sit in a maintenance room," says Seo. "Even if they use lamps out of inventory down the road, they may not be replacing less-efficient lamps and won't be getting the savings we require."

Simple upgrades don't require Alliance help, but expertise is still key

Certain products, such as screw-in bulbs, can be installed by a customer's staff without consultation from an Alliance member. But customers aren't always equipped to make the correct purchase of a product, so it's important the distributor supplies the right product.

"The average consumer won't know the difference between an MR16 lamp, a BR-, or an omni-directional," says Seo. "But for BESI incentives, they have to purchase the lamps from a distributor who's a registered Alliance member. The customer should defer to the Alliance member on all things technical."