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Efficiency program benefits businesses in many ways

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Local businesses looking to save money by cutting their fuel use now have an extra incentive to do so. Money that began as a fine against the Village for buying power from a polluting coal plant is coming home to help Yellow Springs businesses get energy-efficient.

The three-year program, to shave 483 megawatts off of the community’s yearly electricity usage, kicks off at a meeting on May 19, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m,. at the Greene County Educational Service Center on East Enon Road in Yellow Springs. There small and large local businesses will learn how to get rebates and deep discounts on lighting, furnaces, motors, refrigerators and controls in addition to cash paybacks for energy they conserve.

At the meeting, organized by the Village of Yellow Springs and the Yellow Springs Chamber of Commerce, representatives from Efficiency Smart, the group tasked with spending the Village’s $181,500 fine on an energy-efficiency program, and Vectren, which delivers natural gas locally, will share ways companies can save money while greening their buildings and operations. The event is free and open to all local businesses.

“The more energy-efficient products are, the more they cost,” said Kirk Barrett, the commercial conservation representative for Vectren, which will give companies $25,000 in cash for qualified natural gas projects. “A rebate is meant to help bridge the difference in pricing — it’s an incentive to go the extra mile.”

While the Efficiency Smart program is aimed at both businesses and residences, the meeting will focus on how Efficiency Smart will help companies design and finance energy upgrades with the goal of saving $1.71 in electricity costs for every dollar invested. Chamber Director Karen Wintrow said she sees this as a win-win for local businesses.

“Not only do they get the financial reward on the purchase, but the financial reward down the road of energy efficiency,” she said.

Electricity savings mandated

The Efficiency Smart program originated when American Municipal Power, or AMP, was cited by the U.S. EPA Environmental Protection Agency for violating the Clean Air Act at its Gorsuch coal plant near Marietta. The Village, and about 40 other AMP members communities, decided to use its share of the $15 million settlement to cut electricity consumption.

AMP then contracted with Efficiency Smart, a division of Vermont Energy Investment Corporation, to help the community meet a 1.63 percent per year electricity reduction goal. Efficiency Smart must demonstrate savings of at least 1 percent per year through 2013 or it will have to pay the Village back. In total, the community may save $558,400 over the lifetime of the energy-efficiency measures.

While Efficiency Smart is also working with residential customers, they are targeting industrial and commercial users since combined they account for about 56 percent of the Village’s electricity consumption, according to 2009 numbers.

Those industrial and commercial electric customers who use between 20,000 and 500,000 kilowatt-hours per year are eligible for Efficiency Smart’s business incentives.

Rebates are available for more than 20 energy-efficient products, according to Efficiency Smart Director David Cawley. Businesses typically start by making lighting upgrades — which Cawley said can lead to dramatic savings — and also can update lighting controls, replace motors, electric heating and cooling equipment, compressed air systems, chillers, manufacturing equipment, refrigeration units and more. Efficiency Smart makes recommendations and the business works with their suppliers and contractors to complete the project.

“What we are able to do is provide technical assistance because a facility may not have the technical staff to know what they should be doing,” Cawley said.

Businesses using more than 500,000 kilowatt-hours can receive a customized package that includes an energy assessment, a financial analysis that shows how much can be saved and access to financing. In two industrial projects in Bowling Green and Wadsworth, Efficiency Smart has saved each business $40,000 per year.

The top industrial and commercial electricity consumers in the Village, all likely using more than 500,000 kilowatt-hours per year, are Yellow Springs Instruments, Antioch University Midwest, Creative Memories and Friends Care Community, according to Reggie Stratton of the Energy Board.

Gas reduction opportunities

But electricity use is just part of a business’ total energy use. Many also use natural gas for space and water heating, so the Village Energy Board invited Vectren to the meeting to discuss its incentives program.

Vectren Energy Delivery, which now delivers gas rather than produces it, has been mandated by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to help its customers cut usage. It does so by paying companies based upon the amount of energy they save from upgrades.

Vectren will provide a cash payment of between $0.75 to $1.00 for every therm (100,000 BTUs) of natural gas a business can forgo in its first year of savings. Last year the company paid Hobart Arena in Troy $15,000 for its energy-efficiency upgrades.

“Our money is meant to help the business finance projects that are a longer-term payback — greater than 18 months,” Barrett said. Some upgrades, like programmable thermostats, are “no brainers,” because the investment is recouped in a few months, Barrett said. But businesses often need more convincing — in the way of incentives — to make larger investments that may take several years to pay back.

“It’s an economic decision that businesses have to make — we can’t force them to make it,” Barrett said. “We can just help them financially to make that decision and hopefully they’ll make the right one.”

To participate in Vectren’s program, the business would complete an audit, prepare a list of energy-saving actions, and sign a letter of intent with Vectren to agree to make the upgrades within 90 days. Vectren will estimate gas savings, confirm the project has been done and then send the business a check based upon the projected annual savings.

Residences can save, too

Efficiency Smart’s residential program began earlier this year with rebates on energy-efficient lighting and appliances and a $35 cash reward for turning in an old refrigerator or freezer, which can be picked up for free.

Already several villagers have taken advantage of the discounted products, available online at Compact fluorescents and LED lighting can be bought for 30 to 50 percent off and several appliance rebates are available — $20 for hardwired lighting fixtures and $50 for new energy-efficient refrigerators or clothes washers. The village’s 2,700 electric customers will soon receive coupons in the mail for these products.

Some local businesses have been waiting for incentives to become available through the Village — their electric provider — said Wintrow. Previously, many incentives were only available through investor-owned utilities, which have been mandated by the state to help their customers cut back.

“I see it as a real opportunity for local business to take advantages of programs the Village hasn’t been able to offer before,” Wintrow said. In addition, it’s a way for local contractors and stores to increase their business, she said.

“Local contractors can benefit from this because we want as much to stay local as possible,” Wintrow said.

For more information and to register for the meeting, visit the Chamber Web site at .

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