D.C. energy efficiency world gets murkier

As reported on page 1 of this issue, the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory have picked a certifying body to test and certify workers for the federal Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) and home energy upgrade industry.

As reported on page 1 of this issue, the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory have picked a certifying body to test and certify workers for the federal Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) and home energy upgrade industry.

It is not an organization that should have won the contract. Instead, DOE and NREL picked the Building Performance Institute, Malta, N.Y., a group whose expertise seems to revolve around winning federal contracts.

DOE and NREL made this award despite the call by an industry coalition of 22 organizations to start the selection process over in a transparent manner.

The coalition is composed of every significant organization in the plumbing-heating-cooling industry. The coalition formed when the industry realized that the Feds were on the cusp of creating a huge national energy efficiency program that involved plumbing and HVAC, yet nobody had asked the plumbing and HVAC industry about it.

I've discussed the problems of the Workforce Guidelines for Home Energy Upgrades and the WAP program before in CONTRACTOR's July 2011 issue, and at http://bit.ly/jEELiE. In that blog post, I talk in detail about BPI's long history with DOE and how intertwined it is with the Washington energy efficiency government/NGO milieu.

Charlie McCrudden, vice president, government relations for the Air Conditioning Contractors of America, is spearheading the coalition.

Back in late June, McCrudden and the coalition sent a letter to Dr. Henry Kelly, acting assistant secretary, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, saying, "We are alarmed at the limited and opaque process by which the Workforce Guidelines for Home Energy Upgrades and the selection process for the Workforce Guidelines Certifying Body are being carried out."

The coalition expressed alarm that they, the people with the expertise to perform home weatherization work, had never been consulted.

On August 4, McCrudden received a reply from Kathleen B. Hogan, deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency, Office of Technology Development, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, that said that DOE and "NREL intend to make one subcontract award to an industry-recognized certifying body."

By mid-August, they did indeed make that one subcontract award to BPI. McCrudden found the announcement buried in a DOE website.

The coalition is composed of organizations that have spent decades training and certifying workers, including ACCA, North American Technician Excellence and Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors – National Association. The industry has done all of this training, testing, certifying and accrediting for years. BPI has not. In fact, BPI has no idea how it's going to do this.

The day I wrote this editorial, I received an email from BPI that startled me.

"The Building Performance Institute Inc. (BPI) is calling for Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to help prepare test questions for four new certifications being developed in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory's (NREL's) National Worker Certification Program for the weatherization industry," the email said.

Why didn't they just put a subject line on the email that said, "We don't know what we're doing"?

I would hope that members of the industry jump on this invitation to try to make this certification test halfway meaningful. But they better work fast. The deadline to sign up is September 9. That's right, they're giving people 10 days to sign up for a program with this level of significance.

The reason subject matter experts have to sign up for the committee that quickly is because work begins this month. SME panels will convene during two work periods: September 27-29 or October 4-6.

Toward the end of her letter to McCrudden, Hogan states, "The subcontract to be awarded through this Alliance/NREL procurement does not signify that DOE intends to recognize only one certification body for weatherization or home performance certifications."

I would certainly hope so. Maybe next time they'll certify an organization that doesn't need to put out an open casting call for subject matter experts. Coalition members should jump on this, either separately or collectively. Organizations like NATE could certainly do it themselves. Or, perhaps, the coalition can form a new non-profit just for this purpose and pool their expertise.

As McCrudden told me back in June, you have an appliance in your basement that's on fire. This is not the time and place for amateur hour.