Pastor Hill and his congregation at Open Arms United Worship Center were getting ready to hire contractors to update the electrical wiring in their building and switch all their light fixtures to LED. The church had started to replace the light fixtures themselves and decided to hire out. The contractors estimated that the fixes could be as high as $80,000, the electric being the brunt of the cost. Meanwhile, in a not-so-coincidental conversation, another pastor told Pastor Hill about ComEd’s Small Business Energy Savings program or SBES. Just two days before the contractors were set to start, Irma Sanchez and her team from Retrofit Rebates Incorporated came in to assess Open Arms United Worship Center and said they’d be able to do the updates for free through ComEd’s SBES.

The updates at Open Arms include changing fluorescent lights to LED, programmable thermostats, quells of A/C units on the rooftop, and those updates will save them about 40% off their monthly energy bill, not to mention the estimated $80,000 in the labor and materials that the other contractors were going to charge. Pastor Hill said that the building will be completed in June this year. “They are rewiring everything from the cross to the grave,” said Pastor Hill, “they are legitimate companies that come in and do it. It’s just what they do. It’s a blessing.”

How would your church or nonprofit qualify as a small business? ComEd has its own definition of small business—which more or less just means a small, non-residential building. To qualify for SBES, your building needs to use less than 100,000 kWh per year. You can find this in the upper right-hand corner of your monthly bill.

Irma Sanchez is a specialist in Retrofit’s sales department and works directly with the churches through the building energy audit process. “The churches are the ones who really need it. I’ve been to ones where all their lights are out because they can’t afford to pay their bill,” said Sanchez. They work with churches big and small, from 50 light fixtures to over 220. The program has been around for 4-5 years and Retrofit Rebates has completed 300 properties since January, some of which include Salvation Army in the Chicagoland area, with just 6 buildings left to finish.

Lukas Dlugosz, the co-owner of Retrofit Rebates Inc., said that roughly 95% of those who undergo the building assessment decide to go through with the recommended updates. Retrofit Rebates is a “Trade Ally” and certified contractor that provides what they call “instant Rebates.” They are the implementer to do the updates and labor on the buildings through the Small Business Energy incentives.

The program is subsidized by ComEd customers at little to no cost to them. On your monthly bill, an extra charge is listed as “Energy Efficiency Program.” The charge is government mandatory, and the money that is withdrawn pays for the energy efficient efforts. The money is distributed to different programs; some of them are electric, gas. ComEd hires contractors, including Retrofit Rebates, to update the buildings.

Some updates the energy program includes are: boiler tune up, changing light fixtures to LED, insulating pipes, and updating radiator steam traps in older buildings and more. Usage can go from as much a 168 watts down to 30 watts per fixture after using ComEd’s SBES program. ComEd also has a separate program called Air Care for rooftop maintenance and A/C unit updates.

Small businesses (and churches!) can apply here through ComEd’s website under the standard applications or this application. The Trade Ally, Retrofit Rebates, for example, comes in to assess the building and gives a report on the changes that would be made and their estimated cost. They produce a report that shows your current use and what changes they would make to front the money for materials and labor. The report also shows the return on investment after the changes would be made. You can see a sample report here.

But what do they get out of this? Why is it for churches and small businesses? Dlugosz said that ComEd’s goal is to improve efficiency. Instead of rebuilding the electric grid, the alternative is to lower the energy use of small businesses and churches. It’s harder to do commercial businesses because they have larger buildings and use more than the 100 KWH that the small business program provides. ComEd offers other programs for those larger businesses and, according to Dlugosz, those companies usually go through with the updates if the return on investment is within 3 years. It costs ComEd more to make those larger buildings more energy efficient, hence the special offer to the smaller buildings that are easier to update and make more efficient.

The program includes a standard labor warranty of 1 year and 5-7 years on new light fixtures (55,000 hour rating). They use commercial-grade products and not what you find at home improvement stores.