Cutting energy costs

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007
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Taking the easy way out on energy expenses

Incentives

The state government promotes energy efficiency by offering business energy tax credits. Businesses can apply for tax credits for both existing buildings and new construction projects. The credit aims to remove barriers for businesses by giving them that extra incentive to make the switch.

The credit is 35% of eligible project costs. For retrofit projects, all energy-related costs are eligible. For new construction, only additional costs for making the systems at least 10% more efficient than standard practices qualify, according to the Oregon Department of Energy. Equipment must meet the Oregon Department of Energy’s technical requirements, and you must apply prior to the start of your project. Eligible projects range from weatherization to hybrid vehicles.

Energy efficiency is a measurable way for businesses to boost their bottom line. Will Miller, technical manager for the existing buildings program at Energy Trust of Oregon, a nonprofit that promotes efficient and renewable energy technology, shares ways for businesses to make quick fixes and avoid pitfalls on the path to reducing energy costs.

Appropriate lighting levels: All building space is not created equal and people have a tendency to overlight, says Miller. He advises lowering the lighting for common rooms or corridors that don’t maintain constant use while leaving desk areas well lighted. Lighting constitutes the biggest discretionary energy use for most businesses, which is why conserving it has the most immediate payoff. There are dual benefits to this: “When you reduce the amount of light in a space, you’re also removing a heat source,” Miller says.

Waterworks: Buildings typically maintain hot water at 140 degrees. Miller recommends reducing the temperature to 110 degrees — still sufficiently hot — to save energy.

Easiest thing to change: Replace old T12 lamps and install new T8 lamps in existing fixtures. T8 lamps deliver more light (lumens), generate less heat and run at an overall higher efficiency than T12 lamps.

Pitfalls to avoid: When a business reviews its budget and wants to shave costs, one of the first things to go is maintenance. Miller advises against moving too quickly in this area. Not replacing filters, for example, can backfire by lowering the filtration efficiency and adding dollars to the utility bill in the end. Also make sure that products pitched as efficient really are by checking them out with conservation groups.

RESOURCES

ENERGY TRUST: www.energytrust.org/business

OREGON DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY BUSINESS
ENERGY TAX CREDIT PROGRAM: www.oregon.gov/ENERGY/CONS/BUS/BETC.shtml

ENERGY IDEAS: http://www.energyideas.org/

Energy Star: www.energystar.gov

NW ENERGY EFFICIENCY ALLIANCE:  www.nwalliance.org

Back to the basics: “If you don’t need it, turn it off,” Miller says, repeating his mantra. He emphasizes that basic routines such as shutting down systems when the area is unoccupied — whether for a few hours or for the weekend — contribute to an overall trimmer budget.

Taking the first step: Start measuring your energy use. You can’t save if you don’t know where your energy is going. Miller recommends good old-fashioned number crunching using a spreadsheet to keep track of monthly energy usage. This will help identify any areas hemorrhaging energy (and money).

— Eunice Lee

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