Statewide partnership with RDCs is a big win for local businesses
Ben Raphael was a builder in Monkton, Vermont who carved out a niche for himself as an expert woodworker. By 2016, he’d established his current business, Wooden Hammer, crafting sustainable, high-quality custom cabinetry and woodwork.
Ben began his business in his basement, then built what he thought was his “forever shop” on his property next to his house. But he outgrew the space and purchased the shuttered town garage in 2019.
It was a shell of a building, and Ben renovated it by insulating walls and installing heating and electrical systems. Like any small business owner, he had to make choices. Some upgrades just weren’t in the budget.
“I really didn’t want to heat the building with fossil fuels, but going over options and costs, it became apparent that I couldn’t afford anything other than propane,” he said.
Going with a less efficient heating system was a tough decision for Ben, but one that he had to make to keep his business viable. Fortunately, as he continued to grow, he saw an opportunity to make the switch to a more efficient heating and cooling system—a move that would lower his monthly energy bills, reduce his carbon footprint, and support his business values.
The opportunity? A significant rebate to help him lower his operational costs during COVID-19, made possible through a unique partnership between Efficiency Vermont and the state’s Regional Development Corporations (RDCs).
There are twelve RDCs in Vermont that give guidance and facilitate resources for small and medium-sized businesses. Each acts a vital lifeline to thousands of businesses in their region.
“Our assistance to businesses takes a lot of different forms,” said Fred Kenney, Executive Director of the Addison County Economic Development Corporation (ACEDC) and Board President of the RDCs of Vermont. “It can be one-on-one mentoring or advising, or it can be business education, webinars, and seminars. It can be connecting businesses to resources and banks or providing specific support for different sectors.”
Ben relied on the ACEDC to help develop Wooden Hammer’s business plan and financial documentation to obtain the construction loan to buy his building.
“I’ve obtained so much help from the ACEDC. I would not be where I am today if I did not receive assistance from them,” said Ben.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, thousands of RDC members leaned on their local chapters to provide assistance with grants and loan programs to stay afloat. Efficiency Vermont sought to expand its rebates and incentives for businesses for the same reason.
As a longtime partner to the RDCs, Efficiency Vermont proposed an idea: why not offer an enhanced incentive program for RDC members that would allow them to install money-saving efficient upgrades at a fraction of the cost—in some cases, as little as ten percent of the total project?
The program was a huge success, leading Efficiency Vermont to present the RDCs with a Best Practice Exchange Energy Leadership Award to honor their energy efficiency leadership across the state. Between June and December of 2021, 164 businesses across the state received enhanced technical support and $2.5 million in incentives to make their buildings more energy efficient.
The program allowed Ben to make the switch from propane to an air-to-water heat pump system at his wood shop. He also received a grant from another organization to install solar panels.
“Efficiency Vermont’s staff was really helpful and the program was astonishingly easy,” he said. “The application was simple. Once awarded, it was just a very straightforward process of getting the money.”
Other businesses used the enhanced incentives and support to upgrade to LED lighting, install more efficient heating and cooling systems, as well as installing lighting, controls, refrigeration, compressed air systems, and chiller equipment.
“This was a great relationship with Efficiency Vermont. They had this incentive they wanted to provide businesses, and we know the needs of those businesses. We were able to identify and communicate with those businesses to promote the program.”
Small businesses are the backbone of Vermont’s economy—and that hasn’t changed as Vermont recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. Efficiency Vermont and the RDCs just launched another round of enhanced incentives for businesses to help them transition to more energy-efficient lighting.
This new phase of the program, designed to support the transition from fluorescent lighting to LED technology, will provide up to $10,000 to small and mid-sized businesses on a first-come, first-served basis. Four-foot linear tubes, a common lighting option for businesses in the state, will be banned by the State of Vermont effective January 1, 2024.
“Even in good times, it’s hard for small and mid-sized businesses to afford the transition to energy efficiency,” said Efficiency Vermont Account Manager David Adams. “Helping them reduce expenses helps them remain competitive and retain jobs. I think that’s a great story.”