SEA and easy

Site Energy Assessments (SEAs), part of the government's Action Energy Programme, are completely free initial reports on how well or badly your organisation is using energy. Vilnis Vesma introduces a valuable, if little known, source of grants for companies wishing to cut their energy bills.

Cutting your energy consumption is not only good for the environment, it is one of the few truly quantifiable methods of achieving environmental continuous improvement, and therefore an important matter to any company with environmental systems certification to maintain. Sadly many companies' energy saving programmes, if they ever had them, have languished through a decade of falling real energy prices. But help is at hand thanks to a government initiative funded from Climate Change Levy (CCL) receipts.

SEA visits are quite short (one day maximum on a site whose energy bill is between £50,000 and £100,000, for example) and they have to be comprehensive in their coverage. This means that their conclusions cannot realistically include costed recommendations, nor can they investigate specific processes in any depth. Larger sites are usually allowed more time (up to fivedays where the energy spend exceeds half a million pounds) but there has been some rationing, so it is difficult to predict what any applicant would get. Nevertheless, even a two-day visit can be beneficial if that is all that is allowed. Normally only one site per applicant would be accepted, but this is not a hard-and-fast rule. In one case a client submitted applications for all five of his sites, and all were accepted, albeit on a limited overall ration of time. If multiple sites are to be assessed, ones with different attributes are preferred.

Specific focus
Although an SEA is supposed to be comprehensive in its coverage, applicants can nonetheless ask the consultant to focus on particular areas, such as: lighting; motors and drives; monitoring and targeting; training and motivation; or a range of other technological and management topics. The scheme administrators supposedly select a nearby consultant with the required background, but in practice the scheme has been virtually kept secret, so most applicants have actually been introduced by registered consultants who then get to do the work.

Fully funded
An organisation which has had an SEA report can subsequently apply for the second level of Action Energy service, Specific Measures Assessment. SMA builds on recommendations contained in the SEA report and is designed to enable the client to develop specific high-priority measures further. Suppose that the SEA report had identified 'monitoring and targeting' as an important theme. The client would then discuss this requirement with an approved consultant to determine the scope and nature of a project with that particular focus, including its likely duration and cost. The client would then file an application for the SMA subsidy.

Under the rules of SMA, the first two days' consultancy are fully funded by the Action Energy programme, with a 50 per cent subsidy for the balance. If the total subsidy exceeds £5,000, the applicant will need to demonstrate that at least three quotations had been obtained. £5,000 is quite a generous limit. For example, if the specialist consultant charges £500 per day, a project of 18 days or fewer would escape the need for competitive procurement (two days at £500 subsidy each, plus 16 days at £250 subsidy). The client's net liability in this example would be £4,000, but they would need to meet the whole of the consultant's £9,000 bill in the first instance. SMA projects represent exceptionally good value for money, especially considering that only the most competent advisers are registered to carry them out.

SMAs were initially floated as projects which followed the (free) SEAs, but a question arose early on: can an applicant qualify for SMA subsidy if they have already paid for a general energy survey and don't need a free one? The official position is yes they may, as long as they can produce an energy survey report equivalent to the SEA standard. Furthermore, it seems that even more leeway may sometimes be allowed, so it may be worthwhile discussing with your chosen consultant how to bypass the SEA stage.

Application forms for both SEAs and SMAs can be obtained through the government's Environment and Energy Helpline on 0800 585794.


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