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During COVID-19, inspections rely on email, customer photos

Image of the ceiling in a commercial building
In the era of COVID-19, we've made our business incentive program inspections virtual.

Despite a few hiccups, virtual inspections effective for BESI projects

A combination of a new approach and a little forgiveness around site inspections for business energy savings incentives (BESI) projects seems to be working.

In keeping with Government of B.C. guidelines along physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, we've switched site inspections, both pre and post project, from on-site to remote inspections. Customers randomly selected for project inspections are contacted by email and are asked to submit photos that can help inspectors make a proper assessment of product upgrades and the number of products involved in projects.

"We recognize the impacts the coronavirus has had on businesses," says BC Hydro's Tanya Perewernycky, a program specialist with the Alliance. "I know firsthand of firms that have had to let longstanding employees go, so we recognize the impacts are significant. We're trying to be as flexible as possible with site inspections."

As BC Hydro only pays for product upgrades that deliver on qualified energy savings specified by the BESI program, customers need to be using the right product in the right configuration. We use an algorithm that randomly selects which projects will be inspected. The majority of projects go ahead, with incentives paid out, without pre and post inspections.

But it's vital that site inspections are still a part of the BESI program, even during COVID-19.

For the most part, customers alerted by email of an inspection request have responded well. There have been some hurdles, such as emails that have been sent to junk folders, but for the most part, the system seems to be working. Customers are asked to take photos, both closeups of the existing technologies, and wider shots that indicate the number of lights or other technologies used on the business site.

"Inspectors ask for photos to get a sense of what type of lighting they have, and also photos that provide a broader view that gives them a sense of the quantities involved, either room by room or in a warehouse space," says Perewernycky, adding that Alliance members can also submit any images from former visits to a customer that might help.

"And when you're doing this project, if you can be proactive by taking photos as you do the work, they can be used if there's a post inspection later on," she says.

Remote inspections could become commonplace

As we explore ways to be more efficient with the BESI program and strive to make the site inspection process easier on the customer, there's a chance that remote inspections could be used even after the pandemic is over.

"As businesses reopen, we'll go with whatever the government guidelines are around access and social distancing, wearing facemasks, etc.," says Perewernycky. "But I suspect that moving forward we may do more photo inspections if they're working well."

Deadline for BC Hydro bill relief applications is June 30, 2020

As the deadline for applications for the COVID-19 Relief Fund and payment help approaches, Alliance members may want to remind their customers of this option.

Customers with small businesses forced to close due to COVID-19 may be eligible to have their business electricity use charges waived for up to the three months. Medium and large businesses aren't eligible for the Relief Fund but may be eligible for interest-free bill deferrals and payment plans. They can get more information from their key account manager or by calling 1 800 224 9376.