Spokane Journal of Business

New Avista program helps small businesses conserve

Utility offers free installation of energy-saving devices

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-—LeAnn Bjerken
Brian Benton, controller for L&M Truck Sales, says participating in Avista’s small business program helped the company become more aware of its energy usage and ultimately cut costs.
---LeAnn Bjerken
---LeAnn Bjerken

Spokane-based Avista Corp. reports that its small-business program, having already saved enough energy in its first six months to power 100 homes for one year, is well on its way toward a much larger conservation goal that will help its entire service community. 

Through this latest initiative, Avista consults with small-business owners within its service territory to pinpoint updates that can be made to conserve energy, and then provides and installs those new energy efficiency measures free of charge.

Chris Drake, Avista energy-efficiency program manager, says the program is planned to last for two years, but possibly could be expanded depending on feedback from participating businesses.  

“Our overall goal is to achieve energy savings, and interact more with our customers,” says Drake. “We want to reinforce what kinds of opportunities are available, particularly for small businesses.” 

Drake says the program begins by sending field representatives out on door-to-door visits, during which they walk through each business and identify areas where energy can be saved. 

“These are usually smaller companies, with limited staff dedicated to energy management or energy saving programs,” says Drake. “They may just be leasing the building, or perhaps lack time or capital to invest in these kinds of improvements.” 

Representatives can install a variety of devices on the spot, which are said to make noticeable impacts in reducing energy consumption. These include light-emitting diode (LED) light bulbs, “smart” power strips, faucet aerators, low-flow showerheads, and pre-rinse spray valves. They also provide motion-sensing devices for soda machines and coolers that put displays into sleep mode when there is no motion around the machine. Known as vendingmisers and coolingmisers, these devices also maintain temperatures to keep stored merchandise fresh while the machine is not in use.

The devices being installed by the program range in application, with some being designed mostly to conserve power and others saving both water and energy. 

“After a while, our representatives come to recognize which devices may benefit a certain type of business the most,” says Drake. 

“For most small businesses, lighting is a primary concern, as is heating and insulation. However, some industries, like food service, may have more specific needs for saving energy,” he says. 

Following each visit, representatives leave behind information on each device that was installed as well as a survey and the option for a follow-up contact. 

“So far, we’ve gotten lots of positive feedback, as well as requests for follow up to discuss further energy saving opportunities,” says Drake. 

Avista reports having saved about 994,000 kilowatt hours in electricity and about 12,700 therms of natural gas in the six months after it launched the program.  

 “Those amounts are equivalent to keeping approximately 100 homes running for one year,” says Drake.

 “Additionally, all of these measures have greater than a one year measure life, so we’ll get those savings every year, and offset the energy needed for 100 homes for years to come,” he adds. 

Drake says the company estimates a total savings of 6.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity and 245,000 therms of gas for the duration of the two-year program.

He says that so far, Avista has conducted more than 1,000 site audits with more than 3,000 energy efficiency measures installed. A total of about 1,130 businesses have participated in the program, but the company hopes to work with at least 8,000 by June of 2017. 

Avista estimates it has spent around $280,000 so far on the program’s energy saving measures, including on devices, installation, and labor costs. 

Colette Bottinelli, marketing communication’s manager for Avista, says the program is cost effective, since that amount is less than what it would cost for the company to produce and distribute the equivalent amount of energy. 

 “For this program, it’s about a three-to-one ratio of the future savings compared to the investment,” she says. 

Brian Benton, controller for L&M Truck Sales Inc., of Spokane says he sees energy efficiency as a simple way for that business to reduce operating expenses.

“We implemented the Avista small-business program in September,” says Benton. “It’s an easy way to save both energy and money in the long run.” 

Benton has a bachelor’s degree in finance from Eastern Washington University. As the company’s controller, he’s in charge of the business’s financial aspects as well as its human resources department.  

He says working with the program was both a smooth and pleasant experience. 

“The whole process required minimal effort on our part, with hardly any intrusion on our employees’ workdays,” says Benton. “Their representative had all his equipment with him and explained things as he went along.”

Benton says L&M had already updated the lighting in its shop and office areas through another of Avista’s programs back in 2011. 

Therefore, the changes it made through Avista’s latest program were limited to adding smart power strips to its office spaces, faucet aerators for both office and shop sinks, and new LED lightbulbs for the building’s exterior, floodlights, and flagpole.

Established in 1968, L&M is a truck rental company specializing in the sale and lease of trucks and other equipment, including booms, buckets, dumps, flatbeds and water trucks. Also available for sale or rent through the company are trailers, unmounted cranes of all sizes, knuckle booms, and carry deck cranes.

Wayne Gibson is the company’s current owner and president, having joined the company in 1986. 

L&M has a total of 18 employees and occupies three buildings, a main office, shop, and storage warehouse at its 4001 E. Boone location. 

Although the company sells worldwide, most of its business is in the U.S., with a majority being in Washington, Idaho, and Montana. 

Benton says the company’s total energy savings following the measures is difficult to calculate, as the usage rates between office and shop spaces vary, along with the type of work done in certain weather conditions. 

“We can’t really compare this season to last, because the type of work we do depends on customer demand and weather conditions. We may be more active one month versus the next. It’s just not predictable,” he says.

However, Benton says he noticed that in comparing power use between October 2014 and the same month last year, the office space saw a 6 percent reduction in power usage, and the shop area a 12 percent reduction. 

While it might not always be obvious, in the end Benton says, it’s about being more aware of power and water usage and not wasting either unnecessarily. 

“Over time there are going to be some savings in things like switching to energy-efficient lights, turning off devices that aren’t in use, and closing doors to keep the heat in,” says Benton. 

“Just being aware of the energy being wasted helps people to learn to conserve, and when you add that up across all the businesses in the area it gets to be an even greater amount of savings,” he adds. 

Benton says larger businesses might be able to notice a greater difference more immediately. 

“I would absolutely recommend other businesses participate in this program, because ultimately everything adds up, and this is a simple way to eliminate costs quickly,” he says. 

In addition to its small-business program, Avista offers both rebates and custom or site specific incentives to commercial and industrial customers in Washington, Idaho, and Oregon who receive retail electric and natural gas distribution from the company. 

Businesses with more to invest might also use the company’s website to look into rebates or incentive programs for projects such as installing insulation, energy-efficient lighting, or making updates to their heating, ventilation, or air conditioning systems.

Avista also offers several other online tools that assist businesses in saving energy, including a list of energy saving tips, an energy calculator and energy advisers.

LeAnn Bjerken
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Reporter LeAnn Bjerken is the most recent addition to the Journal's news team. A poet, cat lover and antique enthusiast, LeAnn is also an Eastern Washington University alum.

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