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The City of Chula Vista's Free Resources and Energy Business Evaluation (FREBE) Program

In 2009, the City Council passed an ordinance on Business Resource and Energy Evaluation. The ordinance requires that all commercial and industrial businesses in the City participate in a free resource and energy evaluation of their facilities to help identify energy and water efficiency and conservation opportunities with the potential to reduce utility costs and greenhouse gas emissions. The evaluations are required at the issuance of a new business license and every 3 – 5 years thereafter. Businesses are required to indicate a date and time for the evaluation; provide access to their facilities and authorization to review historical energy and water usage; and acknowledge receipt of the completed evaluation and related information.

As outlined in the ordinance, the City established specific guidelines for:

  1. Providing written notices to businesses, scheduling, and conducting the evaluation;
  2. Providing evaluation findings (which may include efficiency and conservation opportunities, historical energy and water consumption, potential utility cost and greenhouse gas savings, and other sustainability practices);
  3. Providing information and assistance regarding federal, state, and local rebate programs for efficiency retrofits and low-cost financing options to help reduce the time and cost of implementing voluntary measures, including contact information for the local utility and utility-approved contractors; and
  4. Identifying exempted buildings, which include home offices, mobile businesses, and other businesses that do not have a commercial utility gas or electric meter.     

The FREBE ordinance complements the City’s lead-by-example activities focused on municipal facilities (see Chula Vista’s Sustainable Operations Plan and South Library Retrofit) and supports the City’s broader efforts to increase the sustainability of its buildings (for more information, see Chula Vista’s Climate Action Plan).

Prior to the passage of the Business Resource and Energy Evaluation ordinance, the City of Chula Vista offered energy and water evaluations as a voluntary component of the business licensing process. However, less than 1 percent of eligible businesses participated. To improve participation, City staff undertook on-site solicitations of businesses; this significantly increased implementation costs and was not a feasible approach for reaching the approximately 12,000 businesses across Chula Vista. The passage of the FREBE ordinance was an effective solution for reaching more businesses, increasing participation, and improving the cost-effectiveness of the program.

In developing and implementing the FREBE ordinance, the City of Chula Vista’s Office of Sustainability worked closely with many internal and external stakeholders. This included close collaboration with the Department of Finance’s Business License Division, which plays a vital role in explaining the program and its requirements through their daily interaction with business license applicants. Externally, City staff conducted outreach to local business associations to share information on the FREBE Program’s intent and update them on program results. Chula Vista’s strong relationship with San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) – the local utility – has been key to program development, funding, and implementation.

A team of six is responsible for executing the FREBE Program, including full-time and part-time staff. FREBE staff participate in certification programs and trainings such as SDG&E’s educational and technical training courses, the Building Performance Institute’s Building Science Principals, and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Associate and Accredited Professional programs. The team has access to the City fleet to conduct the on-site evaluations. A program manager oversees progress and navigates the team through emerging issues.

To support high-quality, efficient, and standardized evaluation, the team created Standard Work Forms that outline key evaluation steps and practices, similar to ASHRAE Level I audits. The FREBE team procured a software application to assign future evaluations, create evaluation reports, and maintain record-keeping. After each evaluation is completed, observations are recorded to create a business-specific report. The team enters the findings into the software to generate a site-specific set of recommendations for energy and water efficiency improvement. To provide options for different budget situations, these recommendations are categorized as no-cost, low-cost, and investment opportunities. Currently, the City is in the process of updating FREBE Program software to add a mobile application which would permit the team to go paperless and conduct evaluations via tablets.

Following the evaluations, the FREBE team provides the businesses with information on relevant programs to enable efficiency improvements. The team refers businesses to various resources (e.g., SDG&E’s Business Energy Solutions and SDG&E Account Managers) to help guide them through energy efficiency solutions and learn about relevant rebate and third-party installation programs. The team also provides information about other energy financing opportunities, such as Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE) financing. For applicable businesses, the FREBE Program provides free smart power strips with load sensing technology that helps eliminate vampire loads (loads from devices that are turned off but still drawing electricity).

Over the past three years, the Office of Sustainability has also provided guidance and assistance to National City, California – its immediate neighbor to the north – to support the implementation of its Green Business Program, which shares similar design features with FREBE.

In the development and implementation of the FREBE Program, City staff conducted outreach to local business associations to share information on the intent of the program and to update them on results. Direct engagement with businesses is central to FREBE (see the program flyer). The City communicates with businesses by notifying them of the need to receive a free evaluation (at ordinance-specified periods), interacting with them in person during the evaluation, providing evaluation findings, and sharing other information and assistance regarding federal, state, and local rebate programs for efficiency retrofits and low-cost financing options. The City also maintains a FREBE website with an online evaluation reservation system. Chula Vista has leveraged its relationship with SDG&E to help inform businesses with efficiency opportunities of available utility-sponsored rebates, financing, and third-party installation programs.

The FREBE team conducts quarterly surveys of businesses that have received evaluations. The survey includes questions on the helpfulness of the evaluation; whether any of the recommended improvements were implemented; the results of those improvements; and how the FREBE program can be improved. Through the surveys, the team gains insights on the evaluations and follow-up actions taken by businesses. These surveys are important for measuring the success of the program, supporting program improvements, and linking businesses to other related programs (e.g., Chula Vista’s CLEAN Business Program, which provides businesses with no-cost resources, public recognition, and informational workshops). 

As of 2017, the City of Chula Vista has conducted more than 5,700 no-cost business energy and water efficiency evaluations through the FREE Resource & Energy Business Evaluation Program. Since the launch of FREBE, approximately 50 percent of businesses that receive an evaluation implement at least one energy-saving action based on their survey results; for surveys conducted in 2016, the rate of implementation reached 63 percent. While the energy savings associated with these follow-up actions are not tracked directly, the thousands of documented energy-saving actions by businesses across the City are indicative of the program’s impact. The 2016 surveys also show that more than 90 percent of respondents would recommend the FREBE evaluation to other businesses. Finally, as part of FREBE, Chula Vista provides approximately 300 smart power strips per year to participating businesses, delivering direct energy savings estimated at 80,000 kWh annually.

City Ordinance on Business Resource and Energy Evaluations Policy

Chula Vista ordinance detailing FREBE Program for businesses

FREBE Flyer Outreach Materials

Flyer for The City of Chula Vista's FREBE program.

FREBE Evaluation Form Checklist

Evaluation form for The City of Chula Vista's FREBE Program.

FREBE Report Template Template

FREBE Report template for The City of Chula Vista.

Go Green Financing Flyer Outreach Materials