Posted by Charley Cormany, EFCA Executive Director
The world is changing, and how we use energy in buildings is also changing. To meet our climate goals, we need to reduce our emissions quickly. Using electric appliances instead of natural gas or propane-fueled devices is an emission reduction strategy, and there is a massive effort to see this happen.
As part of its long-term energy strategy, California is banning the sale of new gas furnaces and water heaters by 2030. Policymakers are banking on more efficient electric alternatives and savings from efficiency upgrades to make this switch. Policymakers are very aware that the state cannot meet these goals without contractors. I do not think most contractors know how important their role is in the transition to a clean energy future.
To help with this effort, Efficiency First California (EFCA) created the Clean Energy Connection (CEC). This online contractor directory tool provides free leads to contractors providing carbon-free solutions. What is a carbon-free solution? Basically, it is equipment or technologies that do not rely on combustion or fossil fuels.
If you’re a contractor in this space, you’re probably familiar with Clean Energy Connection. But you might not know much about the organization behind it, Efficiency First California. In this post, I’d like to give you a little history to explain who we are and how we came to develop this tool.
Efficiency First California: Some History
Efficiency First California (EFCA) is a non-profit, member-based trade organization founded to support home performance contractors. One of our core efforts is to provide our members with information about state policy and industry trends so they can adapt their businesses and thrive.
Our origins refer to the California Building Performance Contractors Association (CPBCA), founded in 2002. In 2012, we became a chapter of Efficiency First National (EFN). When we joined forces with EFN, we rebranded from CPBCA to Efficiency First California. Efficiency First National eventually merged with three other organizations to form the Building Performance Association or BPA. Unfortunately, none of the additional Efficiency First chapters have survived. Using California in our name is a tribute to our former status as a chapter of a national organization. We continue to support the BPA and have an allied partnership agreement with them.
We have a long history of working with industry experts to inform and educate our contractor members. While that is a big part of what we do, our role has expanded. Today, we provide Program Administration (PA) services for utilities as well. Our primary PA focus is on managing and implementing rebate programs.
Why would a utility want to use a contractor organization to manage rebates? The answer is simple. We understand contractors’ challenges in a way that most rebate program administrators don’t. We speak contractor. Utilities might know and understand their customer base, but few truly understand contractors and the challenges they face. Our organization was founded by and is managed by contractors. We have contractors on our Board of Directors. Several of our staff are former contractors, including the Executive Director (me). Our field quality control inspectors are current or one-time contractors.
The Clean Energy Connection: A Special Project
In 2019, we were awarded a Program Administration contract from the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD). Part of this five-year agreement was for us to create a trade ally network for our contractors, including a contractor directory allowing SMUDs customers to find vetted contractors for their projects. We partnered with third-party vendors and learned quickly that software development is complex. Luckily, we had some very talented staff who rose to the occasion and took on the software management role. We spent the better part of a year building these tools for SMUD.
And then, COVID hit. Shortly after the lockdowns started, SMUD pulled back on its rebate programs. Suddenly, we faced a difficult challenge: cut hours for our staff or consider layoffs.
A Phone Call Changes Everything
In the middle of all this, I got a call from an industry colleague working on a project requiring a contractor directory tool. When our first referral failed, I suggested having EFCA build it for them. After all, we had just built one for SMUD, and a project like this would keep my staff working. We could use the PPP funds to support the development costs, and later offer it as a benefit to contractors in the state. This conversation set the Clean Energy Connection in motion.
No Business Plan, No Established Goals Beyond Providing Leads to Contractors
Typically, a venture like this would be carefully thought through, with a business plan, key performance indicators, and a budget. We had none of these. We were building the airplane in the air. Sometimes, that works; other times, you crash. In our case, I am proud to say that we did not crash; instead, our “special project” took a life of its own. Over the years, it has morphed and shifted, but the primary goals are the same.
One of our most important goals for the directory was to make it easier for contractors to get clean energy-related projects. I know from personal experience that rebate programs can help, but they are often complicated and require so much paperwork that contractors question the value of participating.
In addition, we committed that the directory will:
- Be free to homeowners and contractors
- Only support carbon-free solutions
- Protect our members’ privacy – we don’t sell our contractor data
- Provide accurate information about a vetted list of contractors
- Help homeowners find contractors for their projects
- Be supported by a non-profit organization whose main objective is to grow the industry, not make a profit
These features differentiate the Clean Energy Connection from other online contractor directory tools.
There is no Downside for Enrolling
In California, there are two ways to get listed on the CEC. The first is to go to the site directly and register. The second is to sign up to participate in the TECH Clean California rebate program, which allows you to enroll in the Clean Energy Connection simultaneously. TECH has since moved to support the Switch Is On consumer awareness program, which was created and is managed by the Building Decarbonization Coalition (BDC).
There is no downside to contractors enrolling in the CEC. We only ask that you be sincere about providing carbon-free options to consumers. Get on the list and use it to sell gas furnaces and gas water heaters, and you will quickly realize your name comes up less frequently in our searches.
How Are We Doing?
We are three years down the road, providing thousands of leads to contractors. Last year, we passed the 1,000 leads per month milestone. That’s right, the Clean Energy Connection gave out over 12,000 leads last year. Much of this is due to our support of the Switch Is On campaign, an aligned interest.
We continue to add features and improve the tool, again building the plane as we fly (a bit ironic, as I am on a plane writing this).
The Next Steps?
Like most of this journey, we figure it out as we go.
We are currently supporting the BDCs Switch Is On (SIO) campaign outside of California. The directory has just launched in Washington State as part of the BDC’s efforts to expand its messaging nationwide. The BDC has big plans and intends to enter other markets in the future.
Efficiency First California will continue to concentrate on supporting contractors in California. The future looks bright, and we all have a common goal of helping contractors offer and complete clean energy projects. Free leads go a long way to increasing business, and that is what we intend to provide moving forward.
If You Benefit from the CEC, You Should Consider Supporting EFCA
The leads on the CEC are free to contractors, but that does not mean there is no cost. Efficiency First California pays for the leads you receive on the Clean Energy Connection. We choose to do this to support contractors doing clean energy projects in California.
We are a membership-based organization, and your membership is vital to us. We encourage you to support us so we can continue to support the CEC and add other special projects. Your membership includes discounts and additional benefits, including information on where the industry is headed. We have multiple membership levels, and our annual dues are minimal. We encourage your membership and are always interested in your perspective on the industry. Join us so we can continue to help you.
We are very proud of where we came from and are eager to start other special projects that benefit our contractor members. Do you have any ideas on what you think would be a benefit? Please let us know.