Spokane Journal of Business

Avista touts incentives for business

Energy-conservation programs highlighted on new Web page

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Avista touts incentives  for business

Avista Utilities is taking its Web-based promotion of energy conservation incentives from the home to Main Street—or in this case what it calls "Efficiency Avenue."

For some time, users have been able to click on the attic, windows, walls, or elsewhere on an image of a home to learn about different programs. Now, the Spokane-based company has added a Web site that allows commercial users to do the same thing, but on Efficiency Avenue. There, commercial users can click on arrows to find incentives for offices, restaurants, grocery stores, retail shops, Laundromats, warehouses, industrial plants, mixed-use buildings, and schools. Another arrow points to incentives for traffic lights, and one leads to incentives for new construction. Off in the distance, an arrow points the way to savings for farms.

"Our main message is there's always a potential incentive for whatever a customer is looking at," says Catherine Bryan, commercial and industrial incentives program manager. The challenge, though, is far more difficult than it was when the company sought to provide information on incentives available to homeowners.

Avista managers say that commercial customers use energy in far more varied, complex, and intensive ways than homeowners do—and the potential for conservation savings at business enterprises, even though they are fewer in number than homes, is far greater than it is at residences.

The cornucopia of savings at businesses is obvious when you think about the giant electrical motors or kilowatt-hungry process machinery manufacturers use, but not so obvious when you think about such energy uses as lighting, says Bruce Folsom, Avista's director of energy efficiency.

Yet, says Folsom, "Lighting is a huge area for potential savings."

Hundreds of older, electricity-gobbling T12 fluorescent bulbs light manufacturing and assembly floors—and businesses can get $15 to $85 for each T12 fixture it replaces with a new fixture, depending on the length of the bulbs and the number of them in the old fixture, Folsom says. He adds, "It's surprising how many T12 bulbs are out there."

The incentives to change out metal halide, high pressure sodium, and mercury vapor light fixtures ranges even higher—to between $90 and $460 per unit. Other incentives cover other types of lighting, and in addition to the lower power bills businesses will enjoy, federal energy-conservation tax credits provide additional savings for new lighting and other types of energy-saving investments, Folsom says. He says Avista's www.everylittlebit.com Web site, where Efficiency Avenue was scheduled to go live the night of Wednesday, July 15, spells out those credits.

Bryan says that improved lighting can provide businesses with greater productivity, enhanced employee comfort, and lower maintenance costs. To help customers understand all potential benefits from conservation investments, Avista sends account analysts to businesses that request such a visit. Folsom says that after an on-premise energy audit, businesses receive a "site-specific report" that points out potential savings in heat, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems; process equipment; and lighting. Avista's personnel, he says, look for all forms of potential savings while they're there.

The company is willing to pay out incentives because they're a far cheaper source of added energy supply than buying electricity or natural gas on the open market or building new generating plants, Folsom says.

On the new Web page, Avista has included anecdotes about instances in which it has helped commercial customers with energy-saving investments. For example:

*Doma Coffee Roasting Co., of Post Falls, asked Avista to help it evaluate energy-saving coffee roasting machines. Avista says it showed Doma it could curb its natural-gas consumption with a certain machine Doma liked. The machine cost $100,000, but because of the energy it saved, Avista helped Doma pay for it.

*Quarry Tile Co., of Spokane, put in a new kiln after Avista helped it devise an efficiency test that showed the kiln would use 75,000 fewer therms of natural gas a year, the utility says. Because of the energy savings, Avista says it paid $225,000 in incentive money toward the $449,000 kiln.

*Avista says that at its suggestion, the Spokane Public Facilities District sought certification under the national Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program of its 100,000-square-foot Group Health Exhibit Hall. Avista provided $158,000 in incentive money for improvements and efficiency measures that supported certification. It provided another $43,000 in rebates for chillers and other equipment and almost $168,000 more toward a high-efficiency heating and cooling system and additional improvements at the district's Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena. It says its investments helped cut the district's annual utility cost by almost $107,000.

*When the Spokane Club's monthly utility bill shot up by $13,000, Avista says it found that one of the club's two boilers was misfiring, and the other was running nonstop. Avista says it put together a proposal for replacing both units, and provided $17,500 in incentive money, helping the club save $127,000 in its annual natural-gas bill.

Generally speaking, Avista provides financial rebates for all commercial and industrial electric and natural-gas savings measures with a payback that will take longer than one year, and it offers rebates for investments in weatherization and efficient appliances, as well as tips on how to use energy in low-cost ways, Folsom says.

It offers small-business customers a set of standard offers, and it offers commercial and industrial customers custom, or site-specific, improvements through its account executives.

Through its EnergySmart program, the company analyzes stores' refrigeration and lighting systems to find savings, and it works with the nonprofit Green Motors Practices Group to identify, promote, and verify service centers that produce electric motor rewinds and repairs that retain or improve the motors' reliability and efficiency. It will look for efficiency in compressed air, pumping, industrial process, energy-management, and control systems. Through its retro-commissioning program, it makes sure that the condition and operation of energy-consuming systems in buildings are up to snuff.

Bryan says that restaurants and other food-service operations are very large users of energy, and Avista is working to get them to put in efficient appliances when they set up operations. She and Folsom say the company is looking so avidly for ways for businesses to save energy that it's even targeting vending machines.

Bryan says that when a light comes on as you walk up to a cold-drink machine, that means equipment inside the machine has come on so it can dispense a drink. The equipment deactivates after you walk away, even if you haven't bought a drink, so the machine will use less electricity while it's idle. Avista provides a $90 rebate to cover roughly half the cost of buying and installing the technology that turns the equipment on and off. The technology saves 900 kilowatt-hours of electricity a year per vending machine, or a little less than the average home uses in a month. If you have several vending machines, the savings add up, Folsom says.

Four barriers exist to any energy-conservation program—cost, educating customers of the need to take steps, the limited amount of time customers have to allocate to the subject, and trust, he says.

"Customers need to know that this is going to work. Customers are used to being sold," Folsom says.

Avista's conservation budget, which is $23 million this year, up from $18 million in 2008 and $12 million in 2006, reflects its increased emphasis on saving energy, he says. Some 70 percent to 80 percent of that budgeted amount goes to customers through incentives and rebates.

The company now has a third more staff members working in conservation than it did three years ago, with 19 employees on its energy-efficiency team, and another 15 people devote part of their efforts to conservation, Folsom says.

"We are busier than we've ever been" on conservation, he says. "We continue to look to see if and when we should be adding more staff." The conservation staff includes account executives, engineers, analysts, and program managers.

The company's conservation efforts also include watchdogging vendors' advertising claims about incentives that are available for the products they sell. Avista is weighing whether to offer once again home-energy audits, which it did many years ago.

Bryan says that while many people believe much of the potential gain already has been achieved from energy conservation, "We have not found that to be true. As technologies get better, there are more and more savings."

To keep businesses abreast of them, Avista offers a monthly electronic Energy Solutions newsletter.

Kelly Conley, Avista's marketing manager for energy solutions, says the Efficiency Avenue Web page is a far cry from the rudimentary initial sketches staff members drew when they were brainstorming the communication device. Conley says that 14Four, a Spokane online development company, and Coates Kokes, of Portland, designed both Efficiency Avenue and the earlier House of Rebates residential incentive page, which won a national award from the Magnolia, Texas-based Utility Communicators International organization.

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