Energy program helps small biz save big
When it comes to energy conservation, big stores, like Walmart, can make the dollars add up to sense pretty fast given their capital and square footage, and homeowners have a very personal investment involved if they decide to go through with it. But the small business owner is sometimes lost in the energy-saving shuffle.
“I’m a businessman, so I’m looking at the bottom line,” says Gary Dyer, owner of the recently retrofitted medical office building at 890 Mill St. “But I’m also interested in saving the environment.”
He’s been able to address both with help from Peter Millar from the Business Environmental Program at the University of Nevada.
Millar, an energy specialist for more than 20 years, provides free energy audits for commercial buildings. But he doesn’t just leave business owners with a report on their desk about recommended changes. He walks them through it, estimates their potential rates of return, helps identify vendors and goes through the process of contracts, rebate applications and other ins and outs. Funded through the U.S. Small Business Administration at least through the end of this year, the program is one of four pilot programs in the country working to help small businesses cut their energy use. And unlike some in the energy industry, Millar has nothing to sell, so he’s an impartial energy expert.
“I tend to rein in the technical horses and go for what will work in the real world,” says Millar. “One challenge is motivating people, especially in these tight times.”
But the motivation was pretty clear to Dyer. He says he started seeing results in his energy savings, and therefore his bottom line, instantly.
About five years ago, before meeting Millar, Dyer replaced his outdated heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system at his 25,000-square-feet building, which cut his energy bill in half. Then, with Millar, he retrofitted the lighting by changing bulbs as well as the placement of the lighting, which had an estimated savings of $4,500 per year and 23 million watts. And most recently, Dyer installed a 50 kilowatt photovoltaic system, which he expects to zero out his electricity bill.
People often ask Dyer if it was worth it. He points out his new HVAC system. The payment was $2,500 a month, but he was saving $3,000 per month in energy costs. “It immediately started paying for itself,” he says.
Millar says a key component with Dyer is that he owns the building himself and lives in this community. Sometimes, absent business owners who hire umbrella management companies or who just collect lease money while the manager pays operating costs are not as interested in improving energy efficiency in their buildings.
Millar’s recommendations can include larger retrofits, like at Dyers building and at the National Automobile Museum, whose retrofit has the potential to save around $25,000-$30,000 per year. But he also helps businesses identify small changes. Las Palomas Bakery, for instance, is saving about $1,000 per year just by replacing a spray nozzle in their kitchen, and Top Hat Dry Cleaners is saving around $1,500 per year after fixing a compressor problem.
“People are so busy running their businesses, they aren’t aware of the savings they could take advantage of just by doing these little maintenance things,” says Dyer.