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Wednesday, Sep 28, 2022
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Area Building Owners Finding Ways to Lower Monthly Electric Bills

The heat wave that swept the nation in mid-August blanketed San Diego with hot weather. Temperatures broke 100 degrees, yet many businesses and residential complexes weren’t breaking a sweat about their energy consumption.

A growing number of commercial utility customers have lowered utility bills by incorporating green energy-saving features into their operations, including the addition of solar panels and highly automated mechanical control systems.

For example, the Burnham Institute for Medical Research in La Jolla saved $70,000 on its July electric bill compared with July 2006 with the use of new equipment and monitoring technology.

“We are saving in gas, electric and water. And have been very successful,” said John M. Reed, maintenance manager, who pushed the institute to retrofit with energy-saving technology he read about in a trade publication several years ago.

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By installing such equipment in September 2006, the institute lowered its

$2 million-plus annual bill by thousands, according to San Diego Gas & Electric Co. records. Reed said the project has paid for itself in just nine months.

Burnham first teamed up with the San Diego Regional Energy Office for an energy audit, which is used to discover what efficiencies might result from converting existing heating and cooling systems. The office discovered significant waste due to equipment running at a constant speed and inside thermostats set at one temperature regardless of time of day or the weather outside.


Always On

According to Reed, Burnham’s aging heating, ventilation and air-conditioning equipment was always on, even when not required. Burnham paid $365,000 and SDG & E; $450,000 for conversion to install a new system, called the Hartman Loop, which runs only on demand. The system, designed by the Texas-based Hartman Co., is an operating system that regulates variable speed pumps, chillers and fans.

“The payback was so quick,” said Reed. “It paid for itself in about nine months and now we are saving $500,000 to $600,000 a year.”

Burnham facilities consist of 300,000 square feet in 10 buildings ranging from one to three floors.

Every dollar saved is another dollar available for medical research at the Burnham Institute and its neighbor, the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center.

Since moving into a new and more energy-efficient facility in November, executives at SKCC project annual savings to reach $600,000, including $90,000 in savings on the electric bill.

The center is housed in a 90,000-square-foot, two-story building.

Dr. Albert Deisseroth, president and chief executive officer of SKCC in Torrey Pines, stressed the importance of carefully managing resources, including facilities.

“We have a limited amount of money and are in a race against time,” said Deisseroth. “So every dollar we save in our operational expenses gives us another dollar we can put toward bringing our discoveries into the clinic and to provide opportunities to people struggling with cancer.”

He said the new building not only saves in energy costs, but is also environmentally responsible.

Tom Hastings, facilities manager of the SKCC, said the new building incorporates energy-efficient lighting, windows, heating, ventilation and air conditioning.


No Electric Bills

Meanwhile, an affordable housing complex in Poway is saving residents more than just regular rates on the rent , the tenants do not have to pay electric bills. Solara, the first apartment in the state to be fully powered by the sun, was completed in March.

Though tied to the SDG & E; grid, photovoltaic panels mounted on rooftops of six two-story residential buildings and carports supply electrical demand.

The 56-unit, mixed-use complex has dozens of rooftop solar arrays and numerous green design features that cut down on the need for electricity.

Community HousingWorks, the San Diego nonprofit developer and owner, designed Solara to be energy and water efficient. The construction uses recycled materials, with an emphasis on indoor air quality and ventilation.

“We designed Solara to be totally green from the inside out,” said Sue Reynolds, president and CEO of Community HousingWorks, at Solara’s opening in June. “The fact that Solara is also an affordable housing project proves that green is not just for high-end homes.”

In fact, Solara says it’s generating a surplus of energy, and said it can boast that it has the lowest carbon footprint of any apartment building in the state , 95 percent lower than a conventionally powered community, thus avoiding more than 1,800 tons of carbon dioxide each year. That is equivalent to planting 5,446 trees or taking 300 cars off the road annually.

The development, available to working families with incomes ranging between 30 percent and 60 percent of the area median, features one-, two- and three-bedroom units. Rents range from $388 to $1,000 a month.

The city’s Environmental Services Department building, which houses the city’s first liquefied natural gas fueling station, is one of the city’s first green buildings. The structure, purchased in 1998 to serve as a central location in which to combine four separate buildings, was retrofitted with energy-efficient technologies, including a heat reflecting “cool roof,” heat-cooling awnings and a high-efficiency air-conditioning system.

The project increased the energy efficiency of the building 38 percent, thus saving more than 80,000 kilowatt-hours annually and preventing more than 45 tons of carbon dioxide from spewing into the atmosphere.

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