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Dear NYSERDA,

I’ve been hearing for years that you’re working to “transform the market.”

In the New York home performance world, though…you ARE the market.  Anyone who’s not in your system has to compete against it.  So I don’t think you’re transforming the market.  I think you’re killing it, or at least strangling it.

I get it.  You have a long-term plan, but contractors live in a short-term world.  We have bills and mortgages to pay, every month, but you don’t.  You’re looking a decade out.  In 2025, you hope that “solutions are implemented on non-affordable housing buildings without subsidy.” (1)

In 2025, I’ll be fifty-four years old.  My pre-pubescent son will have been out of high school for years.  I don’t have the energy to wait around for you to hope that things will turn out the way you planned, because what you’re telling me is that you’re giving up; you’re just taking a long time to do it.  It’s right there, in your words – you don’t want to subsidize projects.  So why are you?

You’re stifling the market.  In 2012, you had 231 Home Performance with Energy Star (HPwES) contractors.  In 2017, you have 240. (2)  In five years, you added…nine contractors.  I was one of them.

You say, in your reports, that contractors “continue to be willing and eager to participate in this offering.”  Are you sure about that?  I think that’s boilerplate language.  I keep seeing it.  I don’t think you read your own reports.

Maybe you feel that way because you’ve finally managed to increase the number of projects you’re doing:

All of this says to me that your CURRENT contractors are doing MORE work.  (edit: a source mentioned to me that a potential reason for the recent increase in the number of jobs was because combined EmPower/HP jobs are now being counted, where they weren't before - there's no actual "real" increase) I think that’s great.  More power to them!  But if you want to grow the market, that means that you need more NEW contractors, and I’ll tell you why they’re not joining you.

You simultaneously promote and devalue my work.  It’s confusing.  You promote “free” energy audits for homeowners, but only pay me $250 to do one.  Before you got in my way with your free-audit program, I was paid $400.  Some people charge more than $1000 for them, and that's completely justifiable because an energy audit doesn't just look at "energy."  It also looks at the safety and health of the home.  But now, people are used to the idea that "energy audits" are free.  When the audit is free, homeowners start to think that the work to fix their house is free too.  You dug a hole, and I need to climb out of it.  You made my job harder, so I raised my prices.

Your rules are so convoluted even you don’t know what they are.  The Building Performance Institute changed its standards, but your paperwork still references the old ones.  I don’t think anybody actually knows what standards we’re supposed to follow.  That’s just one example; you have so many rules, only a company with a dedicated staff can handle them.  The little guy can’t.  It’s too much and there’s no value in it.  I’m sorry to even bring up the complex financing and how your financing partner killed some of my projects with their non-responsiveness.  I lost money by being your partner, so I raised my prices to account for that.

And then, you added so much work to my day, I had to charge for it.  So you’re not lowering prices.  You’re raising them – in several different ways.  The 10% rebate/incentive you give used to feel like the difference between a “market rate project” and a “NYSERDA project.”  We could justify our higher prices because you made up the difference, but the work involved to make you happy has increased.

I never got an argument from you when a project involved replacing equipment, but I did when it involved insulation and air sealing.  You questioned my pricing, time and time again.  It’s as if you like “things.”  “Things” are easy to grasp.  You can touch them and they’re shiny.  Maybe that’s why your Instagram is full of solar panels, electric cars, and windmills.

You like things, but I like processes.  I like to help my clients with whatever they need, and I like to be a partner with them in deciding what that is.  You just don’t seem to like what I do and how I do it.  You have a vision of what a contractor should be, with an office and a staff and equipment.  But that costs money.  A lot of money.  It’s more than $4000, minimum, just for the equipment needed to start working with you.

I recently did a project through you.  I finished it on June 16 and submitted all of my paperwork.  It was a clean finish (none of your staff could find anything wrong with it), and you paid me on August 3.

It took 48 days for you to pay me.

In that time, I had to make a mortgage payment, and was about to make another one.  Plus all the usual credit card and utility bills, and food for a growing boy with a hollow leg.  When you hold onto contractors’ money for a long time, we raise our prices because of it.

To participate in your home performance program, a contractor needs to be many things.  They need to be an accountant.  They need to be good with computers.  They need to be a scientist, a counselor, a technician, good with their hands, and a fortune-teller.  They need to predict issues that might arise due to their work.  They need to be good at time management and marketing.  That’s a tall order.  The people who can do this and be successful charge appropriately, and they can do it without you.  That’s why they’re not joining you.  You’re not bringing anything new – just a promise that they’ll have to raise their prices so much that the value for their clients will get worse.

Do you see what’s happening?  All the ways your contractors are raising their prices because of you?

I used to think we were in this together.  I used to think that if I tried hard enough you’d be happy.  But you don’t seem happy.  I tried so hard to win your approval, but I realized that I didn’t need your approval any more.

You dole out approval with “awards,” and assume that plaques are a motivational strategy.  It doesn’t work, because it’s extrinsic.  Most of us don’t do this work for certificates, we do it because it helps our clients and we feel satisfied at night.  And besides, your award-winning contractors are the same ones that win the same awards, over and over, because you recognize volume.  Not quality.  If I try hard, someone else will get your awards.  How is that motivational?  The good contractors don’t care.  We just do it because we like to do good work.  What about the contractors who don’t get your awards?  They deserve awards every day.  Every day they’re crawling through puddles of mouse pee in a crawlspace.  Every day they’re in a 140-degree attic.  Every day they’re changing out a furnace next to the litter box.  Every day they’re shoveling out their work van so they can get out of the steep driveway in January.

They don’t need awards.  They just need an ice-cream sandwich and an uninterrupted lunch break.

I let my insurance lapse.  You didn’t even notice.  I let my BPI accreditation lapse and you didn’t notice that either.  You can’t even keep track of the basics.

I feel like your head is spinning.  You have so much on your plate, and the landscape is changing so quickly, that you’re having a hard time keeping up.  And by the time you acknowledge things aren’t working, something new has come along and you start the cycle all over again. Dual-fuel furnaces don’t fit into your guidelines.  Heat pumps aren’t eligible for your subsidies, even though it’s been proven (over and over again) that they work in cold climates.  You’re still using ventilation guidelines from 1989.  That's the year I graduated high school.

You like it when things are simple.  Simple is easy, but houses are hard and they’re outside.  They get rained on, snowed on, frozen & baked.  The climate-change pendulum keeps swinging and we get polar vortices and torrential rains and toxic algae blooms in our lakes.

You should know by now how much energy & carbon is saved from my work.  We’ve been doing this together for TEN YEARS.  We shouldn’t have to keep modeling individual houses to figure that out, but your emphasis on energy savings is holding us back.  Making our projects all about “savings” and “payback” devalues the greater benefits of what we do.  When I’m done with a house, it’s healthier.  Its indoor air quality is improved.  Carbon emissions are reduced.  None of these has anything to do with savings-to-investment ratios.

You’re not my first, you know.  I was a willing participant in a 3rd-world educational bureaucracy.  After that, I worked for the most-visited museum in the world.  I used to think that bureaucracy was the worst - it was a mashup of all of the worst elements of an educational institution and the government’s bureaucracies.  But you…you’re different.  You make it personal.

You’re old-school.  I used to respect that, but the world has changed.  Millennials are buying houses, they want to control them with their phones, and you don’t have an app.  You can’t show any data about the kind of results homeowners can expect.  My colleagues in the industry and I have given you a DECADE’s worth of data to work with, and you haven’t done anything with it to market my work to a new generation.  From their perspective…there’s no proof that what you’re supporting actually works.  That makes them less likely to do something, like text me.  I keep trying to open doors, but you keep putting up walls.

Ten years together.  20,000 hours of my life, dedicated to your mission, and you haven’t done anything with it to help me.

So I’m done.  I wish you well.  Maybe you’ll find someone new.  But if you don’t, I encourage you to look inwards for the reason why.

But if you do find someone new…be nice to them.  Help them.

Aloha,

Blake

(1) https://www.nyserda.ny.gov/About/Clean-Energy-Fund

(2) https://www.nyserda.ny.gov/-/media/Files/EDPPP/GJGNY/Annual-Report-GJGNY/2016-gjgny-annual-report.pdf

Comments

Incredibly insightful. I know

Incredibly insightful. I know that for you, this is all obvious, but I had no idea to the extent this was happening.

Required reading for anyone who touches Home Performance

Efficiency programs are dead! Long live the efficiency program! (Which need to shift to paying for energy savings only IMHO, not specifying how work can be done.)

Blake's essay is poignant and full of real pain. I felt similar pain with a much less intrusive program here in Ohio.

Thank you Blake for pulling back the curtain and baring your soul. I salute you. And everyone in our world needs to read this.

Great information.

I feel the same way here in Wisconsin. Only last night at our meeting was told that the goal is to make testing portion a thing of the past and replace with the Home Energy Score. On top of that we are told that our area is not a primary concern for marketing that the money is going to be spent in more densely populated areas like Madison, Milwaukee, etc.

Honest and insightful. Points

Honest and insightful. Points brought up are worth serious consideration. Bureaucracy is a large ship slow to move, and isn't necessarily the worst system, but there are always improvements that can be made, especially in a field that needs revision to adapt to constantly new information.

Dear NYSERDA Letter

.Thank You Blake for exposing whats hiding behind NYSERDA's curtain (And ClearResult is the curtain rod) - The main reason the number of jobs has increased the past two years is because NYSERDA moved the 10% rebate from homeowners to contractors and they removed the requirement for pre-approval, many companies are putting jobs "through the program" just to get the 10% back for themselves that used to go to the customers. These are jobs that the contractors sold, found, discovered and executed completely outside the program as part of there existing business, then when its done and they know its paid and all measures qualified, they can selectively afford "put it through the program" when the 10% justifies the paperwork and computerwork.. So it's a fake increase -smoke and mirrors. Its not because homeowners are encouraged to "join the program" The free energy audits are an awful joke thats been repeating for too many years. Of course you are right when you point out that it costs more (about 15-20% more) to do a NYSERDA job than it does a standard job. So the 10% they used to give to the customer wasn't enough. And you're right , their massive, systematic, lengthy delays NYSERDA and CR cause in paying contractors costs money too. Many use a short term business loans to float the difference, paying interest for NYSERDA's delays. Maybe the NY Green Bank should float the short term payday loans to contractors - LOL - God forbid they give some of the funds to the contractor up front to pay for materials and labor before the job is completed and begins the 45-90 day waiting period for payment. If they offered that, then number of jobs would increase becasue contractors would be motivated towards the program instead of leaving it. .

I was there from day one.

I was there from day one. Fifteen years almost of hpwes. I started telling them years ago that they had almost killed the golden goose. Then I told them they were like the Cosby show. They brought hpwes into this world and nowadays they were going to take it out. They don't care about contractors and I don't think they care about home performance anymore. I'm 62 now and ready to move on. I feel like I'm getting out as it all implodes. Blake summed up the issue well. Sadly the state programs will be on there own and I'm not sure a thriving HP industry is in the future.

Comments on NYSERDA and its Home Performace program

There is lots to agree with in your post.
NYSERDA 'IS' the market is accurate. By offering 'FREE' anything, they undermine a vibrant open market.

NYSERDA HP program is failing the contractor that does insulation and air-sealing more so than mechanical change out scopes/contractors. Lower the demand side of a building is complex to start with and adding BPI rules, NYSERDA rules/processes/Empower pricing and QA is a formula for the contractor to lose money.

You are correct that NYSERDA has been rewarding volume production from the beginning with plagues.
They are using the wrong metric still. Contractors should be acknowledged for lowered energy use and greenhouse gas reduction. Another valid metric is $ saved for the homeowner.

NYSERDA program adds more cost to many projects that far exceeds benefit to the contractor. Except when there is a 'loop-hole' discovered and exploited, i.e. simple mechanical scope contractor get %10 contractor fee. (That is a smart contractor.)

Thanks Blake, spot on

Yes, the distance gap between what NYSERDA pays lip service to and what it achieves in practice has been very frustrating from a contractor standpoint. Our company has also pretty much given up after years of good faith effort. Absurdly complex and constantly changing program requirements, no apparent interest in two-way communication with people who do the work, strange biases in favor of certain technologies and against others, a focus on collecting data at the expense of everything else, costs of compliance that exceed the value of incentives. As soon as a program starts to work, they pull the plug or change the rules. And we all end up chasing our tails when we should be working together and solving critical problems.
If you take this all the way to the top, NY's Public Service Commission, to which NYSERDA answers, appears not to be operating in the public service. And I've always thought that maybe NY's "energy czar" shouldn't be somebody from Goldman Sachs.
Best of luck on your new endeavor.

Thanks Blake, spot on

Yes, the gap between what NYSERDA pays lip service to and what it achieves in practice has been very frustrating from a contractor standpoint. Our company has also pretty much given up after years of good faith effort. Absurdly complex and constantly changing program requirements, no apparent interest in two-way communication with people who do the work, strange biases in favor of certain technologies and against others, a focus on collecting data at the expense of everything else, costs of compliance that exceed the value of incentives. As soon as a program starts to work, they pull the plug or change the rules. And we all end up chasing our tails when we should be working together and solving critical problems.
If you take this all the way to the top, NY's Public Service Commission, to which NYSERDA answers, appears not to be operating in the public service. And I've always thought that maybe NY's "energy czar" shouldn't be somebody from Goldman Sachs.
Best of luck on your new endeavor.

NYSERDA

Well you did what I am guessing most contractors wanted to do long ago, step away. I to will be doing so soon. I read your letter and was thinking all of the same happened to me. I lobbied years ago for a down payment process that would give us money to start the project, that fell through as I was told that any money given to the contractor was for energy savings only, it seems to me that starting a job would save the customer money. I did EMPOWER program and almost went out of business due to the fact that they don't pay on a timely basis. I had a job that all paperwork was submitted in December and didn't get paid until May of the following year. I did get a line of credit to pay bills but when the bank called the loan because I could never get the balance to zero I was pretty much done with that program.
I was the leader in the Renewable heat program for a year until they took that program and gave it to the stove stores, again shut down on that.
I don;t do the low income programs simply because I would be considered low income by the time your done the project your out of money and have to borrow your way out of the project.
I have heard of the large contractors being owed hundreds of thousands of dollars. Simple sokution fire NYSERDA for non payment. Call them and tell them to pay and stop doing there dirty work, that is what would happen in the real world. If someone doesn't pay on time you stop working for them.
The stats that you gave probably are a little misleading as the total , in my opinion, includes the ER audit done by the EMPOWER program. Also included are the EMPOWER jobs for low income which put contractors in the poor house.
It easier to find the bad things in the program than the good, it is so broken there maybe no hope for repair and no one at NYSERDA cares, your right they get paid every week whether they do a good job or not.
NYSERDA has no conduit to do the work without the contractors and they don't care. The point is if everyone were to stop doing audits and work for just a few days, they would get the message quick, but because we have to work that will never happen.