Lean and green: a guide to your energy bill

Business owners see savings in energy overhauls

 

Lance Calloway said the Bellingham Sportplex’s lighting retrofit is projected to save the facility approximately $20,000 over the next year.

 

It would be hard to imagine paying the Bellingham Sportsplex’s electricity bill, which has reached in excess of $6,000 a month.

With more than 300 light fixtures illuminating more than 77,000 square feet of hockey rink, soccer fields and offices—keeping energy costs down can be a nail-biting battle that could rival even the tightest game.

“Energy costs are a big game here,” said Lance Calloway, executive director of the Whatcom Sports Commission, a nonprofit corporation that leases and operates the Sportsplex. “The more we can reduce energy waste, the more we can keep operating costs down for ourselves and our members.”

Between today’s declining economy and the increasing popularity of “going green,” few business decisions allow owners to reduce waste while reducing certain costs. But the Sportsplex has found a way.

In April, the facility teamed up with Bellingham-based Energy Conservation Services (ECS) to undertake a complete lighting retrofit, replacing 302 metal halide and obsolete fluorescent lights with 310 energy-efficient fluorescent fixtures. The change is projected to save the Sportsplex $20,000 over the next year.

Kris Runestrand, a designer and project manager for ECS, said in today’s marketplace it’s all about controlled conservation combined with a bit of eco-consciousness.

“We’re dealing with a time when a lot of costs are spiraling out of control and (energy consumption) is something businesses can control,” Runestrand said. “Plus there is an added benefit that you are going green. One of the jobs that we have been very successful with is the Sportsplex. They like the idea of saying, ‘Folks, when you walk in here, you are walking into a place that is reducing electrical waste.”’

 

From analysis to installation

ECS provides what it calls a “complete turnkey solution” to identifying and eliminating a business’s energy vampires, which can save a business between 30 percent and 50 percent on its energy bill, said Darin “Woody” Haehn, another of ECS’ project managers.

Haehn,said ECS focuses on but is not limited to lighting and it is the only company in Bellingham that will undertake a company’s lighting retrofit from start to finish. Its employees do everything from the energy audit to the design and installation of the new system, as well as the cleanup and recycling of the old system’s waste material.

“We go out and physically identify the opportunities,” Haehn said. “We basically walk in and say how we can help. That’s the way it has been up to this point.”

A crucial part of ECS’ sales pitch is educating owners about incentive programs available through Puget Sound Energy.

After identifying a company’s needs, ECS finds utility programs that would help the client save money and then designs a more efficient system that will pay for itself in less than two years on average, Runestrand said.

In most cases, more energy-efficient lighting also provides better lighting, Runestrand said.

The Sportsplex’s Calloway said its retrofit took the building’s maintenance needs from using several different light bulbs and fixtures to one universal bulb, which allows him to buy more in bulk.

“The facilities guys love that we only have one bulb now,” Calloway said.

Calloway also said ECS placed each room on a sensor system that turns off the lights when there is no movement in the room. The new bulbs also stay brighter longer.

“We have been very pleased with the results,” Calloway said. “It’s just a better, cleaner, brighter light.”

Better light and energy savings are sometimes not the only benefits. One of the more unusual stories from ECS is about a local dairy that replaced the light fixtures in its milking facility where its 3,000 cows would file in and out three times a day to be milked.

The dairy kept better tabs on its milk production than on its power usage and after a couple months the dairy calculated that after the lighting change—each cow produced an estimated three pounds of additional milk per milking.

“The energy reduction was going to pay for the lighting system in less than two years, but with the extra milk production — it paid for itself in six months,” Haehn said.

If a business isn’t quite ready to invest in energy efficiency, Runestrand and Haehn said one thing business owners can do is be aware of what kind of bulbs and fixtures they are using.

“Incandescent bulbs are the worst,” Haehn said. “They’re 10 percent light and 90 percent heat energy.”

Plus, they said to check with Puget Sound Energy to see what incentive programs might be available to help.

“There is a program out there that they can capitalize on,” Runestrand said. “I still run into folks that just do not have a clue that there are programs out there that can save them so much money.”

A change of lighting isn’t the only way to save some coin; a spin on heating could be the next hot idea.

 

Just like the sun and the earth

It can be difficult to achieve total acceptance of the moment and abandon self-consciousness and judgmental thinking with a loud heater blowing incessantly in the background. Thankfully, that is something that Bellingham’s Red Cedar Zen Community won’t have to deal with in its new Red Cedar Dharma Hall at 1021 N. Forest St.

When Red Cedar Zen bought the hall last year, resident priest Tim Burnett said it was just a shell with no heat or electricity. So when he went to install a new heating system—a totally silent, energy-efficient radiant heating system was a natural because of the tranquil environment the Dharma hall tries to create.

“Having a stable quiet comfortable environment is key for what we do so it has been great,” Burnett said.

Jeff Caldwell, owner of Bellingham’s Heating Green, said radiant heating systems use heated panels mounted on the ceiling to radiate heat downward.

Caldwell said most traditional heating forms such as electric baseboards, electric wall heaters, gas heaters, wood stoves and oil heaters all have one thing in common: they use forced air as the medium to transfer heat.

“When you use air as a medium, you have used more energy,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell said when air is forced into a room, it cycles from the floor to the ceiling, which can produce unexpected results.

“Moving air can also have a cooling effect,” Caldwell said.

This is where the extra energy comes in. When warm air is forced into the environment, it cycles through the room, which cools the air and in turn requires more electricity to maintain the temperature.

On the contrary with a radiant heating system, a business would use less electricity because it heats objects and people instead of the air.

“We’re relying on objects in the room to absorb the heat and then reradiate that heat outward just like what the sun does with the earth,” Caldwell said.

Burnett said he is not sure what the Dharma hall’s long-term energy savings will be but he has been pleased with the most recent energy bill.

Caldwell said an added benefit to radiant heating is that each room is individually zoned so that an occupied room would have heat and an unoccupied room would not, which saves energy.

“It’s just like having individual lighting in each room,” Caldwell said. “As opposed to having one thermostat that is turning on all the rooms at once.”

Caldwell said all business owners can look at their buildings’ “envelopes,” or air seals of the walls, floors and ceilings, to check for air leaks and poor insulation.

“Any kind of air leakage can easily account for 25 percent to 30 percent of your heat loss,” Caldwell said. “So if you have leaky windows or it’s drafty at all, that’s money going out the wall or the window. You can always upgrade your heating system and it might save you money but you also want to look at the big picture and work from the outside in.”

Apart from energy efficiency, whether it’s lighting or heating, Caldwell said, when it comes to offices and businesses — it’s all about comfort.

“Comfortable people are happy people and happy people are productive people,” Caldwell said.

 

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