On the watch
Regional program buoys energy-efficiency projects
For someone working to help others conserve energy, Andrea Campos exerts a tremendous amount herself.
Campos is program manager for North Valley Energy Watch (NVEW), an electrical-efficiency program funded through PG&E that offers energy audits plus equipment retrofits to small- to medium-size businesses, nonprofits and governmental agencies across Butte, Glenn, Shasta and Tehama counties.
Since launching in 2013, according to PG&E, more than 1,200 businesses in Butte County have utilized the commercial program and saved more than 5.6 million kilowatt hours, equivalent to the amount used annually by 780 homes. The utility may cover some—if not all—of the cost for materials and work with grants, rebates and/or interest-free financing.
Campos coordinates a range of services for residential and commercial customers. This year, NVEW launched a pilot program for residential customers who want to perform energy audits themselves. Campos assembled toolkits for Butte County Library branches, where homeowners and tenants can check them out. (See “All in one,” by Meredith J. Cooper, page 23.)
Meanwhile, NVEW has sustained a partnership with Butte College’s Training Place to offer career education in the field of energy efficiency—namely, inspection and installation. PG&E brings in outside experts to supplement the instruction from faculty.
“The end goal of the program, if I were to sum it up, is energy efficiency,” Campos said. “The more the organizations that are providing these services work together, that’s when the benefit to the community can really come out.”
NVEW, for now, is synonymous with Campos. It’s a one-woman operation, based in Chico, under the auspices of NoRTEC (the Northern Rural Training and Employment Consortium)—her employer. PG&E supports the venture with monies from the Public Purpose Program charge that appears on customers’ utility bills.
“The main idea is to reduce energy usage, particularly during peak hours,” PG&E spokesman Paul Moreno explained. “That, in turn, not only reduces the need for more power plants and more power lines, but also reduces the carbon footprint—and, of course, it saves the customers money as well.”
One such beneficiary is the North State Food Bank in Oroville. In November 2015, the nonprofit replaced its old fluorescent lighting with LED fixtures and updated motors in its refrigeration equipment. The savings: 52,000 kilowatt hours per year, approximately $10,000. PG&E—via NVEW—defrayed $7,000 of the project’s $12,000 cost.
Richard Health & Associates performed the work, as it does on all such projects locally. A statewide company with an office in Chico, RHA is PG&E’s designated provider of audits and upgrades for this area.
“It’s not an easy thing where you and I can just do it,” explained Christian Zellet, senior program manager with RHA, who handles his company’s side of the NVEW program. “Those technicians are certified. You need to follow federal, state, county, city law—to do all that, you need to follow certain procedures…. That’s why you need someone like us.”
While PG&E cannot stop customers from doing the work themselves, the utility prefers approved firms—and, Zellet said, won’t reimburse unauthorized installations.
Working with partners throughout the North State enables Campos to focus on other tasks.
The “direct install” component with RHA typifies this relationship. Campos refers customers who contact NVEW to RHA, which conducts the energy audits and installation work. In turn, Campos is available to help customers apply for PG&E rebates and financing, plus performs education and outreach through NoRTEC’s network on what RHA can do.
Zellet supervises energy advisers, the inspectors who visit facilities and determine the level of energy efficiency—or inefficiency. Once the adviser prepares his or her report, the customer learns which upgrades would yield what savings, plus the incentives available through PG&E.
Lighting comprises the bulk of the work performed, but Zellet said motors—such as those replaced at the food bank—also fall under this program. Other equipment, such as heating and air conditioning, may fall under another program.
NVEW’s commercial program is limited to customers using no more than 200,000 kWh per month. That total not only encompasses mom-and-pop shops, Zellet said, but also manufacturers with 50 to 60 employees. RHA has done a lot of work locally, “but there’s so much more to do.”