Since its launch in January of 2012, PUSH Buffalo’s community-based energy efficiency program, PUSH Green, has been working to implement Green Jobs, Green New York in the city of Buffalo. The statewide initiative aims to strengthen communities by providing funding for energy assessments, upgrades and clean energy workforce development. What began with a residential focus with PUSH Green’s Friends and Neighbors program has now expanded with the recent launch of a new program geared toward small businesses and non-profits.
The PUSH Green Building Retrofit Program’s mission is to help provide assessments and energy efficiency upgrades to small businesses and non-profits in economically distressed communities in Western New York who typically wouldn’t have access to those opportunities. According to PUSH, these types of businesses usually operate out of older buildings that suffer from disinvestment, lack of maintenance, and environmental contamination. Owners and tenants can’t make a move toward “green” building upgrades without first addressing the building’s structural and environmental issues. This is where PUSH Green’s newest program comes in.
Last month, PUSH Green hosted a launch event at Buffalo State College, which was attended by 20 local business owners. According to Sheila Richards-Perez, PUSH’s Commercial Energy Advocate, their outreach efforts have drawn interest inquiries from nearly 50 other people and they have 14 small businesses and 4 not-for-profit organizations already in the application phase for free GJGNY audits. Richards-Perez is a registered architect who acts as a concierge to guide businesses and non-profits through the application and audit process.
“Once they initiate contact, we put them in touch with C.J. Brown Energy who does the audit. They would come assess the condition of the building and where they might see improvements so that they could have access to a grant subsidy,” said Richards-Perez. “For example, if you have water coming in at the building’s foundation or framing is deteriorating over time due to water in the building. If you make energy efficiency upgrades to equipment, the presence of moisture will not allow equipment to function properly.” Those needing these retrofit enhancement measures can apply for grant subsidies through PUSH Green.
Businesses that work with PUSH Green can apply for low-interest financing through NYSERDA to complete the upgrades. NYSERDA will provide 50% of a loan (up to $50,000) at zero percent interest, while the lender provides the remainder of the loan at market rate interest. NYSERDA also offers small business retrofit customers On-Bill Recovery Financing so that they can use their energy savings to pay for the efficiency upgrades.
“It helps businesses to learn about their building and how it performs, and how much money they could be saving and reinvesting in their business instead of sending it to utility companies,” Richards-Perez said. “The community will benefit, too, because businesses can deliver a better product, invest in different parts of their business like advertising, and the upgrades will make capital improvements that can drive up the value of their real estate.”
PUSH Green works with NYSERDA and Building Performance Institute accredited contractors to complete the upgrades, seeking out small owner operators and minority- or women-owned businesses. “We’re able to screen contractors for qualifications and broadcast opportunities to people in the community,” said Clarke Gocker, director of workforce initiatives. “On the residential side, we’ve created an approach in terms of preparing them for customer expectations, coaching them through the referral and building their capacity to deliver a high-quality product to customers. We’d like to extend that opportunity on the commercial side as well.”
The new program expands PUSH’s commitment to supporting the community, the environment and the local economy. “People are really drawn to the mission-driven appeal of the program,” Gocker said. “When we enter into relationships with consumers, we’re appealing to their desire to have their investment have a deeper impact. There’s the benefit of lower utility bills and a safer building; there’s a benefit to the community in that contractors are held accountable to pay their workers family-sustaining wages and hire employees from economically disadvantaged communities; and the projects achieve environmental benefits as well.”
This new program will also amplify PUSH’s efforts to create local jobs. They hope to move 20 small businesses to project completion this year and add around half a dozen jobs in that process. “The economic benefits we see coming out of programs like this, the results are felt here on the West Side,” Gocker said.