Spokane Journal of Business

Avista increases target for energy conservation

Savings goal is same as electrical use by all homes in city of Coeur dÂ’Alene

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Avista Utilities, of Spokane, has added greatly to its annual energy-conservation goal in the wake of the power-supply crunch and this years drought.


For more than a decade, the companys customers have conserved enough power each year to save 25 million kilowatt-hours of electricity, says Randy Barcus, Avista Utilities economist.


This year, says Barcus, the utility is hoping that its customers will conserve enough power just from May through Dec. 31 to reduce consumption by 135 million kilowatt-hours.


Thats almost 2.5 percent of the companys load during that periodand an amount that would meet the electricity demand of all of the homes in the city of Coeur dAlene, Barcus says.


The savings would come through a ramping up of conservation programs, which Dave Miller, Avista Utilities manager of commercial and industrial sales for Eastern Washington and North Idaho, says that Avistas staff has achieved in the last several weeks.


In the commercial and industrial area, the company hopes to beef up conservation partly by encouraging customers to complete energy-saving improvements earlier, says Chris Wilson, a commercial and industrial account manager.


In the last year, wholesale electricity prices in the Pacific Northwest and California have shot through the roof, prompting Avista to do everything to avoid buying power on the open market.


Because of that price escalation, energy conservation, which had waned as a discussion topic during 13 years of rate stability, has become a hot subject once again. While many people assumed that much of the increased supply available from conservation already had been obtained years ago, theres still sufficient potential electricity savings available through conservation to move rates downward in the Northwest, Bonneville Power Administration Acting Director Steve Wright said during a recent interview in Spokane.


In a recent newsletter, the Northwest Power Planning Council said that during the 80s and part of the 90s, conservation programs saved an average of 1,440 megawatts of electricity demandor enough to serve Seattle and Eugene, Ore. The council had estimated in 1998 that enough conservation still was available in the Northwest to cut average demand by 1,500 megawatts, and it now says that the current high prices for electricity will swell that number.


The council added that a technical study group has given BPA recommended new conservation and renewal-resource rate discounts, and this fall the federal power-marketing agency will issue a request for proposals from utility customers, efficiency firms, and others for conservation programs.


Meanwhile, other Spokane-area utilities, including Vera Water & Power, Modern Electric Water Co., and Inland Power & Light Co., are sponsoring conservation-rebate programs and plan to add new rebates this summer.


All three of the smaller utilities are offering discount coupons for compact fluorescent lights. Modern Electric also has rebates for certain energy-efficient water heaters and front-loading washing machines, and Inland Power is offering rebates for energy-efficient construction, heat pumps, and water heaters.


To encourage businesses to save energy right away, Avista has kicked its incentive programs into overdrive.


For some time, the company has offered rebates of up to 50 percent of the cost of energy-conservation improvements that take 18 to 72 months to pay for themselves through energy-cost savings. Starting last month and continuing through July, the utility will provide an enhanced incentive in the form of a few extra cents per kilowatt-hour saved, says Wilson. Also, Avista has removed the 50 percent reimbursement cap and now will pay 100 percent of the cost of improvements done through July.


Robyn Dunlap, an Avista spokeswoman, says that since 1997 the utility has maintained a basic rebate program for business conservation projects. The types of projects eligible for the rebates include upgrading fluorescent light fixtures to more efficient models, converting lighted exit signs to use bulbs that burn less energy, installing improved electric motors on pumps and fans, and replacing heating, cooling, and air-handling equipment.


Also in May, Avista introduced a maintenance program for commercial and industrial customers rooftop heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning units. The program, which also will run through July, will pay for servicing HVAC units, for repairing equipment that helps such units function efficiently, and for buying programmable thermostats.


Other programs Avista has introducedan electricity buy-back program and coupons for savings on efficient, compact fluorescent light bulbsapply to both residential and commercial customers, Dunlap says. In the buy-back program, customers will receive 5 cents for every kilowatt-hour of reduced electricity use below 5 percent of their usage in the year-earlier month.


For residential customers, Avista is offering rebates on gas water heaters, gas furnaces, heat pumps, and programmable thermostats.


One Spokane-area heating and air-conditioning business, Polar Heating & Air Inc., has gotten some additional business by advertising the new rebates, says owner Brian Pape.


We did a couple of heat pumps, and customers used the rebates, Pape says. The mention of the rebate for programmable thermostats in the companys ad also brought in business, he says.


In addition, SMK Construction, a Spokane commercial and industrial heating, air conditioning, refrigeration, and building automation and control company, sent out a brochure a little over a week ago to advise its clients of the commercial HVAC maintenance program.


Wilson says Avista has been checking at the big Home Depot and Lowes home-improvement centers here to see whether the stores patrons have been buying compact fluorescent light bulbs with the discount coupons that the utility mailed out in its billings. Were seeing that theyre selling, he says of the bulbs.


Also, Barcus says Avista is making use of the expertise of an engineer whos on loan to the company from Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Corp. The engineer is working on energy conservation thats related to manufacturing, Barcus says.

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