Demystifying Puget Sound Energy Grants

by Jeff Yirak, P.E., CPMP, LEED AP BD+C, O+M

This article is part of Wood Harbinger’s newsletter series.

I’m currently working on Virginia Mason’s new Bainbridge Island Medical Center. For this project, our client applied for a Puget Sound Energy (PSE) energy grant. I had heard the process can be cumbersome, with lots of forms, extra coordination, and all around more work for the project engineers. However, my experience with the PSE grant process for this project has been a good one, and I want to encourage more owners to pursue this incentive for energy efficient new construction or renovation.

We recently sat down with a few PSE Senior Energy Management Engineers (Taylor Pitts, Tom Anderson, and Jason Hyatt) to go over the process, perhaps dispel some myths about what it takes to successfully earn a grant, and how we can leverage the existing efforts by a project’s commissioning provider to support the PSE grant effort. We brought our current and future energy-focused engineers to get more information first-hand, including electrical designer Shaun May, EIT, CEM; mechanical designer and energy modeler Paul Greenwalt, EIT; and electrical designer John Bourgeois.

Types of Programs Offered

PSE offers a number of grant options for commercial and multifamily projects. Basically, if your project targets go above and beyond what is required for code compliance in energy efficiency and conservation, there’s likely a PSE grant option for you. We discussed the New Construction and Comprehensive Building Tune-Up (CBTU) grant programs. For new construction, there are multiple ways to secure grant funds, from prescriptive incentives/rebates for specific systems and equipment used in a facility to custom approaches designed around specific energy-efficiency system upgrades (such as new condensing boilers or a new heat recovery system) or a whole building. For the custom approaches, grant funding is based on achieving a modeled energy use reduction that is greater than the level required by the Washington State Energy Code (or for Seattle projects, the Seattle Energy Code.) They also offer a post-occupancy building commissioning track, which provides funds to cover commissioning for recently completed new construction (around 6 months post-occupancy) to make sure that building systems are operating efficiently in their “as lived” state.

The CBTU approach is for existing facilities and is similar to an existing building commissioning program but with a primary focus on energy consumption. A PSE Energy Management Engineer conducts an initial facility assessment to see if the building would benefit from additional energy efficiency measures, and, if it does, they bring in a PSE-approved commissioning provider to conduct a full investigation and develop a list of improvement measures. Most of the measures they identify have about a two-year payback period for implementation. There are other key elements included in the CBTU program, such as training for the building operations and maintenance staff and a Facility Guide that serves as an easy to use, day-to-day, how-to guide for any new energy efficient systems implemented. The Facility Guide is not unlike a Systems Manual. The CBTU program includes a one-year follow-up to verify that the implemented improvement measures are kept up and that the building operations and maintenance staff still have what they need to keep the systems in peak performance.

Both programs include some fixed dollar amounts and others based on square footage; check out the program web links to learn more about the specifics for each approach. The key takeaway is that these are intended to be incentive programs, rather than rebates. They are meant to encourage an owner to pursue greater energy efficiency through cost offsets that make the effort more viable. It’s not a way to get something for free, but a way to make a good decision easier to achieve.

Leveraging Existing MEP and Commissioning Tasks for Grants

While there is certainly some extra legwork involved in obtaining a PSE grant, several tasks are already included as part of the standard project process. For example, energy modeling is a common process for many projects and a requirement for projects seeking LEED certification. The energy model the project mechanical engineer is already developing can be used to seek a new construction grant. Likewise with the work completed by a commissioning provider, the content of the commissioning report and trend logging often satisfies PSE’s verification needs in tandem with their site visit field report. Leveraging these project benefits to achieve PSE grant and incentive dollars is a smart and efficient move.

PSE Grants and Stringent Energy Code Requirements

On July 1, 2017, a new code provision will become mandatory in Washington State, requiring a dedicated outdoor air system (DOAS) with energy recovery for office buildings, education facilities, retail spaces, libraries, and fire stations. This means that these types of buildings will have to have a ventilation system separate from heating and cooling systems that can run when heating and cooling are not needed. The goal is a significant reduction in energy use for HVAC systems.

Since the Washington State Energy Code (WSEC) and Seattle Energy Code (SEC) are some of the strictest energy code requirements in the country, beating code required energy efficiency minimums—the requirement for obtaining a PSE grant—becomes more challenging. In our meeting, we asked some of  PSE’s energy engineers what effect this new requirement will have on their grant programs. While they haven’t yet made adjustments to their programs to account for the new energy code requirements, their goal, as a customer-focused organization, is to retain a broad enough program to make sure there will still be viable and achievable incentive options going forward.

Making Advocates of Engineers

PSE noted that about one third to one half of the grant-seeking projects that come their way are initiated by the engineers involved in the project. They said they’re busy as a result of the construction boom in our area, but the ratio of projects seeking grants to the number of projects in progress leaves room for improvement. This is why we wanted to meet with PSE, to find out more about their programs so we can become better advocates. There are some key steps in the process to start pursuing a PSE grant:

  • Contact PSE early in the project to get the ball rolling. This will help the project team start leveraging their work to meet PSE’s criteria.
  • Generate a brief list of improvements over WSEDC/SEC code baseline measures. This could be included as part of the project’s concept design. Include some of the “nebulous” WSEC C406 options, which might be tricky to model or choose early in a project.
  • Enable time for the project energy modeler to coordinate directly with PSE’s energy management engineers. When the design and model are sufficiently complete, PSE formally reviews and may make tweaks to the model.
  • A grant agreement is developed once the model is finalized. It includes construction verification items like a site visit and trend log review. Now’s the time to review the commissioning plan and make sure the commissioning team’s trend logs and report align with PSE’s needs, so their existing work can be leveraged.
  • The programs include construction phase and post-occupancy review. The programs certainly involve a commitment to see through once the project is finished but provide a tangible and meaningful benefit.


PSE is committed to helping the program move forward and works out issues on a project-by-project basis. They balance their need for rigor and assurance with project efficiency and program ease of use to serve their customers’ best interests. So next time the opportunity arises, I encourage you to give PSE a call and explore your options. There is definitely a high probability of a win-win situation for a building owner to save on energy cost measures while the utility and community as a whole also benefit from energy conservation.

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