Tag Archives: local media

USA Energy Guide

Green News Roundup – Alternative Energy, USAEnergyGuide & More

I’m always on the lookout for developments in the local sustainability industry. USAEnergyGuide was started by three Arizona entrepreneurs passionate about the environment. Realizing that rebate and tax incentives are hard for consumers to navigate, they jumped at the opportunity to create a site that would be simple and user-friendly.

Originally only for Arizona residents, the site has recently expanded to include California and Texas with plans to add more states in the future. USAEnergyGuide is your free online source used to calculate rebates and savings that you can receive by switching to more sustainable forms of energy.

I had the pleasure of meeting with two of the company’s founders — Michael Barber, director of operations and Ken Bonham, director of business development — who took the time to answer a few questions I had about their company.

What led to the creation of USA Energy Guide?
One of our Founders was going through the process of researching how much it would cost to install solar panels on their home, how much they would save on a monthly and yearly basis and what the tax incentives and rebates were, but couldn’t find a site that answered all these questions. So, we sat down and mapped out how we could make this process easier for consumers.

What challenges did you encouter and how were these overcome?
Similar to many startups we had the classic chicken and egg scenario. In order for the company to be successful, we needed installers who matched our qualification criteria and qualified leads (consumers) who were interested in being contacted by these installers. We worked to introduce ourselves to every installer in the markets we served so they could understand how we could help them be successful and also focused on connecting to consumers via social media. Along the way, various local media outlets stumbled across our site and did stories on us. The press stories and word of mouth helped us overcome both these initial challenges.

What are the company’s full line of  services?
For consumers, we provide simple ways to understand how much money alternative energy would save them, what rebates and incentives are available in their geographic area and all associated rebates for the products they are interested in. For installers, we provide leads to consumers and business owners who are qualified and ready to purchase these products.

What is your favorite aspect of the industry/company?
Our favorite aspect of the sustainability and alternative energy industry is that it is rapidly expanding and changing every day. There are new advances in solar technology and energy efficiency regularly, and more and more consumers are trying to understand how they can minimize their impact on the environment. This makes every day different and pushes our team to understand how we can help both our customers — installers and consumers — reach their goals.

What kind of a role do you think sustainability plays in today’s Arizona economy?
Right now, the sustainability industry in Arizona is only in its infancy. As costs for alternative energy technology decrease and consumers’ interest in living a greener lifestyle increase, the industry has nowhere to go, but up. However (and this is big however), the industry’s Achilles heel is support from local, state and federal governments. Without broad based government support to spur continued growth, the industry could die a quick death.

What has been the company’s greatest achievement to date?
From the beginning our greatest achievement has been providing information to consumers they couldn’t easily find before. Along with this, it’s the stories we hear from people who have used our site, found qualified installers and are now enjoying solar panels or solar water heaters in their home.

What are your future plans for the company?
While we have been primarily focused on the solar and energy efficiency industries, the sustainability industry goes well beyond those two verticals. We have big plans to not only expand the site beyond those verticals, but become a community where visitors can find a wealth of information across a wide variety of sustainability topics, both on a national and local level.

www.usaenergyguide.com

american flag, protest

Legal Arizona Workers Act Does Not Cause Expected Upheaval

In 2007, the state of Arizona made its first foray into “immigration reform” when it passed the Legal Arizona Workers Act. However, before the Legal Arizona Workers Act (LAWA) even became effective on Jan. 1, 2008, the Legislature went to work on amending the statute, presumably to “cure” some of the more controversial aspects of the law.

While the fundamental purpose and structure of LAWA has not changed, employers need to be aware of the current version of the law in order to limit the chances of being on the receiving end of an enforcement action. For example, the same legislation that tweaked LAWA also criminalized the act of knowingly accepting identity information from someone who is not actually the person represented in that identity information. Nevertheless, recent trends reported by a researcher from the University of Arizona suggest the enforcement tsunami that was expected to hit the business community is, up to now, little more than a ripple in a pond.

LAWA prohibits employers from “knowingly” or “intentionally” employing any unauthorized alien workers after 2007, and creates stiff penalties for employers who do. Penalties for first violations include mandatory probation for, and possible temporary suspension of, all business licenses issued by the state of Arizona. For a second violation during the probationary period, whether knowing or intentional, employers face permanent revocation of their state-issued licenses — thus effectively preventing the employer from doing business in Arizona. LAWA also requires every Arizona employer to verify new hire work eligibility through the federal government’s E-Verify system. However, LAWA created no “penalty” for failure to use E-Verify. So an employer who becomes the target of an enforcement action will likely be presumed to have “knowingly” hired an undocumented worker if that employer failed to use E-Verify. Evidently, most employers have decided either to roll the dice or they simply don’t recognize a risk. According to Department of Homeland Security data, as of late August 2008, only 5.6 percent of Arizona employers have enrolled in E-Verify.

Non-participation in E-Verify is not an option for contractors and subcontractors of any Arizona governmental entity. The LAWA amendments passed last year require those employers to participate in E-Verify as a condition of their government contract. In fact, any Arizona governmental entity (state or any political subdivision) would be prohibited from awarding a contract if the contractor or subcontractor does not comply with federal immigration laws and E-Verify requirements. LAWA requires government entities to ensure that their contractors comply with those requirements, and to include the following terms in their contracts:

  • Each contractor or subcontractor must warrant their compliance with LAWA’s provisions.
  • A breach of that warranty is to be deemed a material breach of the contract, subject to penalties up to, and including, termination of the contract.
  • The government entity retains the legal right to inspect the papers of the contractor and subcontractor employees who work on the contract in order to ensure compliance with the warranty.

Also, employers seeking to obtain an economic development incentive from a government entity must first register for and participate in E-Verify, and show proof of doing so. LAWA further requires the Attorney General’s office to, on a quarterly basis, request a list of Arizona employers registered with E-Verify from the Department of Homeland Security. The Attorney General must make that list available to the public on its Web site.

So far, enforcement actions against employers have been anemic at best. Judith Gans, manager of the Immigration Policy Program at the University of Arizona’s Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy, prepared a study on the preliminary impact of LAWA on immigration trends and businesses in Arizona. She found that not a single superior court enforcement action was filed during the first year of LAWA’s existence. The number of complaints filed with each county attorney during that period was one or none in nine out of Arizona’s 15 counties. The Pima County attorney reported only five complaints, four of which were declined because they involved individuals hired before 2008. The Maricopa County attorney’s office stated that it does not keep track of the number of reported complaints, and those that are filed reportedly are turned over to the county sheriff for investigation. Notwithstanding a number of high profile “raids” conducted by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in 2008, as reported in the local media at the time, no complaints have resulted in a LAWA enforcement action to date.

Finally, LAWA’s potentially adverse impact on Arizona’s economy has been negligible, or is simply undetectable. According to Gans’ study, the current recession has had a disproportionately adverse impact on business sectors that rely heavily on immigrant labor, such as construction. Therefore, because employment of all workers in those sectors, including immigrant labor, has been hard hit as a result of the current economic meltdown, any “LAWA-effect” has been masked.