Great news – you’ve decided to get an energy audit for your farm. Perhaps you’ve read one of our recent articles for this publication and learned about the value of an energy audit.
Before you proceed, make sure you understand where to find a reputable auditor and take the time to feel comfortable with the audit process.
The USDA has two programs that fund energy audits and the subsequent installation of energy-efficient equipment. The USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) offers financial assistance for audits under its Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
The audit can then be used to access additional financial assistance for installing energy-efficient equipment (implementation). NRCS provides a set payment for an energy audit or implementation and typically pays around 75 percent of the cost.
You can ask NRCS for a list of “technical service providers” who perform energy audits. These are firms who have been certified by the agency to perform energy audits.
Another possible funding source for audits is the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) through USDA Rural Development. REAP offers grants and loans to producers who install energy-efficient equipment on the farm.
Your local USDA Rural Development office can also provide you with a list of energy auditors who can serve your farm.
Before you finalize your energy auditor, you want to do your homework to make sure the energy auditor you hire is going to provide the best service for your farm. Here are some questions to keep in mind as you look at selecting a firm to complete your energy audit:
How long have you been performing farm energy audits?
Longevity in the field is a good indication of whether the firm has been able to succeed at energy auditing and has a roster of satisfied customers.
How many dairy energy audits has your firm completed?
You don’t want to be the test case for an auditor who has never been on a dairy. Look for firms that specialize in agricultural energy efficiency.
What standard do you use to develop the audit?
Audits should be developed with engineering expertise, preferably meeting the on-farm energy audit standard from the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers.
Audits required for federal financial assistance programs typically need to meet this standard.
Will this audit qualify for the funding I want to seek?
Your auditor should be familiar with some funding opportunities to know how your audit can be used. You don’t want to go through the expense and time of an energy audit only to learn that it cannot be used to access a certain pool of funding.
For example, the audits for REAP and EQIP emphasize different aspects of the farm, so it’s best to make sure your audit conforms as closely as possible to the type of funding you are seeking.
If I were to hire you, what would be the next steps?
A reputable firm should have a well-articulated process in place for completing your audit. While you may be comfortable doing business based on a handshake, a written contract that outlines the terms of the audit helps protect both parties.
Do you need to look at my utility bills?
To meet USDA standards, an energy audit must look at 12 months of your farm’s energy use history. Beware of an auditor who doesn’t need to see your utility bills – they could be using average utility costs which are less accurate, and your audit may not meet the required standard.
The purpose of an energy audit is to pinpoint the estimated energy savings for your particular situation, not a similar farm.
What precautions do you take for biosecurity?
You want to make sure anyone coming to your farm is conscious of your biosecurity requirements.
Do you sell any equipment?
A company that sells the equipment it is recommending may have a vested interest in promoting that equipment over alternatives. An unbiased third-party can provide a neutral perspective. Sometimes vendors offer free energy audits as a service to help with their sales.
For example, many lighting vendors can perform an audit of your lighting in order to recommend new lighting. However, this audit won’t necessarily look at your entire farm and will not likely qualify for federal funding. An audit delivered by an equipment vendor can be technically accurate and helpful, but be aware it may not be able to help you access certain types of funding.
When will I receive my audit?
It’s good to confirm when your audit will be delivered and to be aware of your responsibilities within that time line. If you have any deadlines for the audit, make sure you communicate those to the auditor.
Can I ask you some other questions?
A good firm will want to talk with you about your operation and answer questions about the audit process before you commit to pay.
Even if you are getting your audit for free, you are still taking up your valuable time and you want to make sure you understand what you are getting.
These questions should help you feel more comfortable about getting an energy audit on your farm. After all, you are an expert in dairying and not energy, so you may not know how to select a reputable vendor. We hope these questions will empower you to find an energy auditor who can best serve your farm and help you reduce your energy costs. PD
- Engineering Team Lead, CEM
- EnSave Inc.
- Email Kyle Booth