The business of going green
Aspen, CO Colorado
CARBONDALE ” Mike Davies believes small steps can add up to big energy savings. So does the company he works for.
Davies works for Aspen Earthmoving, a company that uses a lot of energy. With his company’s support, as well as that of the Roaring Fork Leadership Alliance, Davies helped start the website, whatcanIdonow.org, which encourages people to do what they can now to reduce the amount of energy they use.
That’s why Davies, and a small handful of like-minded people attended “How to green your business and save money,” a recent workshop sponsored by the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce that focused on the ways business owners can cut down on their energy use.
At the moment, energy savings can put a few dollars back in business and building owners’ pockets. In the not-too-distant future, though, those who own commercial buildings may find a bigger piece of the bottom line at stake.
“We’re going to see some kind of federal climate policy in the next three to five years,” said Dan Richardson, an environmental engineer with Schmueser Gordon Meyer, a Glenwood Springs-based engineering company.
That policy will almost certainly put some sort of tax on carbon emissions, Richardson said.
“Basically, if you want to pollute, you’re going to have to pay to offset that pollution,” he said.
And that could add up to some big costs.
Richardson said a $50 per ton carbon tax could add as much as 35 percent to electricity bills and 45 cents per gallon to the price of gasoline.
That makes energy saving a fairly urgent matter, he said.
While Richardson said the era of “cheap energy” is over, a lot of technology is available now to help businesses cut their costs, as well as the amount of carbon they put into the atmosphere. Better yet, there are rebate programs available for businesses that install the new technology.
Both Holy Cross Energy and Xcel Energy have rebate programs available for businesses. Some of those are for businesses that install solar panels that produce electricity, known as photovoltaic panels. Xcel has other rebates available for companies that replace electric motors with more efficient units.
Another part of the technology of energy efficiency is energy audits, in which a consultant from a utility company or a firm like Schmueser Gordon Meyer will evaluate a business’ existing or planned building, and give advice about making it more efficient.
Richardson showed people at the workshop a spreadsheet he uses to help businesses get a handle on their current energy use.
Craig Tate of Holy Cross Energy said that knowledge is powerful.
“You need to take those first steps,” Tate said.
The most basic of those steps is knowing how to read a utility bill.
Tate explained that Holy Cross’ commercial customers are charged in a couple of different ways ” both for overall energy use and for “peak” use.
The overall bill, he said, is like an odometer on a car. The peak use fees are like the speedometer, he said. The trick is to time energy use so the peak use charges don’t get too high.
Using grocery stores as an example, Tate said some supermarkets turn their coolers on and off in a cycle. That way, the stores don’t get charged for running their coolers all at once.
Those kinds of tricks of the trade are what Tate would like to see more companies learn, and the kind of action that can put an immediate dent in a company’s utility bills.
“That’s the low-hanging fruit,” he said.
And, he added, it’s the kind of fruit not a lot of people pick.
“In this whole ‘green revolution’ of the past several months, no one’s been talking about efficiency,” Tate said.
Easy items can be inexpensive, too.
Tate said a friend of his who bought a 100-year-old house in Glenwood Springs was able to cut his natural gas bill in half by spending about $600 on insulated shades for the house.
“Those shades can take a window from an R2 insulation rating to an R6,” Tate said.
Learning how to more efficiently light an office can pay big dividends, too.
“I have two, three-tube fluorescent light fixtures above my desk,” he said. “I have one tube and a desk lamp. Some people come in and say ‘Isn’t it dark in here?’ I tell them, ‘Not for me.’ You need to learn to put light where you need it.
While energy efficiency doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, it does take a concerted effort.
Tate and Richardson said getting the initial information about energy use is only the first step.
“You need a plan, and you need to see it through,” Tate said.
In small companies, that can be as simple as someone making sure the lights and computers are off and the shades are drawn at the end of the day.
For bigger companies, a serious effort to create and enforce an efficiency plan might require a committee to both carry out the plan and make new recommendations.
But the effort can be worth it.
Tate told the group about a conversation he had with a Vail Resorts official about how much energy could be saved by just turning off all the company’s computers at the end of the work day.
“It came to between $600 and $700 a month, just doing that,” he said.
Simply replacing an exit sign in a commercial building with one that uses an LED bulb can cut that sign’s energy use by 80 percent, he added.
Davies said the presentation by Tate and Richardson is just what he likes to hear.
“There was some very useful information here,” Davies said. “If we can get many people to do a little, it’ll add up.”
Mike McCoy of the Fleischer Company, a real estate management company in Carbondale, also was impressed.
“Where possible, we’ll go forward with some of these things,” McCoy said. “We’re always making recommendations to our owners, and this information will be useful to them.”
Annie Olson, an Aspen-area real estate broker who also sells a line of “green” cleaning products, said information about energy efficiency and alternatives is something she’s going to talk to her clients about.
And taking the small, and not-so-small, steps to reduce energy use is going to become more common, Richardson said.
“It’s going to take all of this,” he said. “There’s no one magic box that’s going to fix everything.”
Epa.gov: Go here to find everything from statistical information about energy use to a list of “Energy Star” efficient appliances.
Touchstoneenergy.coop: The Web site has tips for saving energy in commercial buildings.
Xcelenergy.com: The utility company has rebates available for customers who install solar panels and other energy-saving technology.
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