The Search For Enough Green to Go Green

Buckets of money sitting out there.

(Credit: Brooklyn SolarWorks)

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Upwards of 6,400 rebates, tax credits, and other incentives are available to U.S. entities and households that undertake eco-friendly projects like solar panel installations or LED lighting upgrades. While the sheer breadth of options seems to be a promising sign of a greener future, navigating that labyrinth can be daunting.

As a result, some 40 to 50 percent of available funding for eco-friendly development in the U.S. is going unused, according to Texas-based sustainability entrepreneur Natalie Campos Goodman.

“That’s buckets of money sitting out there, waiting to be utilized,” she says.

The need to streamline the quest for such funding is what inspired Campos Goodman to co-found IncentiFind, which operates a publicly-available database of green incentives covering federal, state and local incentives.

In addition to its database, IncentiFind is building out a model in which anyone from individual homeowners to entire municipal governments or entire hospital systems can go to one place to find out which incentives they’re eligible to receive, to apply for those incentives, and get connected to local contractors qualified to do the work of making energy efficiency or other sustainability upgrades.

After spending over a year in heavily-polluted Shanghai, Campos Goodman — who herself suffers from asthma — wanted to make a rapid impact on the often sluggish sector of sustainability back at home.

So far, IncentiFind’s services have led to the completion of 26 projects nationwide, such as LED lighting systems, energy efficient HVAC systems, and other energy-efficient initiatives for offices and commercial uses. Together, these projects have been connected to approximately $4.5 million in incentives, many of them rebate programs, in which the businesses are reimbursed for eco-friendly investments.

Using the IncentiFind database, a care facility in Austin identified approximately $185,000 in incentives, including a $30,000 federal solar tax credit, that could help finance its new cool roof and solar panels. Meanwhile, a 100,000-square-foot commercial establishment in Dallas was determined eligible for about $180,000 in funding, between local utility incentives, a state tax exemption, and other subsidies, for planned upgrades to its HVAC and lighting systems.

So far, it’s not been uncommon for a business with a specific project to be eligible for five or six different incentives at various levels of government. In Houston, six incentives, including a monthly electric bill credit and a state property tax deduction, funded nearly the entire $126,000 cost of a hotel’s purchase and installation of solar panels. The firm that did that hotel’s installation has three or four other similar Texas-based projects in the pipeline.

Campos Goodman says about half of initial IncentiFind searches are made by small businesses, which she attributes to “a huge push in reducing the cost of doing business by going green.”

After searching the database, not all users move to the second step of verifying eligibility, for which the firm currently charges businesses a flat fee of $1,200 for muddling through the necessary information, providing an estimate of how much in incentives are available to a business, and filling out applications on behalf of a business. IncentiFind plans to charge individual homeowners $150 for a similar level of service, though that option isn’t planned for launch till later this year.

“Our goal is to not lose out on a huge, hard-to-reach, marginalized group of people,” Campos Goodman says of sustainability-minded homeowners living on modest incomes.

Additionally, municipalities and private entities can complete IncentiFind’s intake survey to provide information about benefits they offer to eligible businesses and residents that are in their catchment areas. IncentiFind can then verify and add those incentives to its database. “[Municipalities] really don’t have anywhere [else] to go to promote these incentives,” says Campos Goodman.

With a backlog of at least 100 projects seeking help with their incentive searches and applications, following a peak in the use of IncentiFind’s free search tool in January, Campos Goodman and her colleagues aim to leverage technology in order to further automate the system. “It’s not to take the human element out of it, but to expedite the process and maintain affordability,” she says.

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Aline Reynolds is a New York-based journalist and urban planner. As a staff editor and reporter, she has chronicled the post-9/11 revitalization of Lower Manhattan, including the rebuilding of the World Trade Center. Her work has appeared in the American Planning Association’s Planning Magazine, Agence-France Presse, and Newsday.

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Tags: energysustainable cities

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