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ENERGY—Energy-Saving Programs Pay Off Businesses Twice

Stung by high utility rates? Imagine lowering your electricity bill while getting San Diego Gas & Electric Co. to pay you.

Dream on? You don’t have to. The city of San Diego is part of the federal Climate Wise program, which offers economic incentives to participating businesses to reduce their impact on the environment. In the long run, businesses come out ahead on their utility bills, while the cost of implementing these measures is partially subsidized by SDG & E; and other sources.

Climate Wise doesn’t itself provide money for subsidies, but instead serves as a clearinghouse of information for the programs that are out there, said Tom Arnold, program manager for Climate Wise.

SDG & E; provides money for Savings by Design, which provides incentives for businesses to design new buildings and major renovations for maximum energy efficiency. Building owners can receive up to $250,000, while the design team is eligible for up to $50,000, Arnold said.

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Yole Whiting, director of consumer programs for SDG & E;, said Savings by Design is one of several incentive programs the company has to help businesses and residential customers save electricity.

The Standard Performance Contract and Express Efficiency Program each offer companies financial incentives to change out older equipment with newer and more energy-efficient models. Incentives vary based on the type of system , lighting, air conditioning, refrigeration and so forth, Whiting said.

Small Business Program

In the case of the performance contract, savings are spread out over two years and require independent verification to measure savings, she said.

The efficiency program, meanwhile, is designed for smaller business customers. It offers immediate rebates, but the amount is less than under performance contract, Whiting said.

SDG & E; can also direct business customers to banks that provide low-interest loans for energy improvements, she said.

There are several programs available to residential users, as well. The Home Energy Partnership is the residential equivalent of the Savings by Design program, while under the Residential Contractor Program, SDG & E; provides vouchers for certain home improvements to boost energy efficiency, Whiting said.

There are other sources for financial incentives, as well. The San Diego Regional Energy Office provides funding from the California Energy Commission for the Emerging Renewables Buydown Program, which offers subsidies for installing solar panels or other “green” electricity sources, Arnold said.

Substantial Savings

The electricity savings can be substantial. As an example, Arnold points to the city’s Environmental Services building in Serra Mesa, which went through a Savings by Design makeover when it was renovated four years ago.

Since it opened in 1996, the building uses 931,000 fewer kilowatt hours a year when compared against a similar building next door. With the cost of electricity currently hovering at around 13.5 cents a kilowatt hour, that’s a substantial savings, Arnold said.

An estimate dating from April , before electricity costs began jumping precipitously , stated that the city was saving almost $90,000 a year compared against what the building had used before the upgrades, he said.

The cost for all the environmental upgrades for the 73,000-square-foot facility was about $268,000, including all the grants, deals and incentives available to the city. A private company working through Climate Wise would be able to get similar financial incentives, and see similar energy savings, Arnold said.

There are additional benefits. A participating company receives a special Climate Wise spreadsheet software which calculates the economic savings from each project a company undertakes, he said.

Future Legislation

The software also calculates environmental benefits in implementing these projects, such as the reduction of greenhouse gases due to less energy use.

This will not only be good public relations, Arnold said, but would also serve as a “hedge” against future legislation. The state or federal government can determine that the company has already complied with mandated greenhouse reductions, and may be eligible for a refund, he said.

Partners in Climate Wise include BF Goodrich Aerostructures, Continental Marine Cos., Hewlett-Packard, Qualcomm Inc., Solar Turbines, ST Microelectronics, Unisys San Diego, and a dozen other businesses, schools and nonprofit organizations, Arnold said.

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