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Challenging Projects Are Creative Outlet for Astro Energy’s Talents

ASTRO ENERGY GROUP

CEO/CFO: James A. Masias.

No. of local employees: Five.

Investors: A partnership of Chula Vista Electric and Astro Mechanical Contractors.

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Headquarters: El Cajon.

Year founded: 2010.

Company description: Energy services business that primarily helps clients reduce energy use in commercial and public buildings.

When Imperial Valley’s El Centro Regional Medical Center needed to replace its data center heavily damaged by the April 4, 2010, Mexicali earthquake, newly established Astro Energy Group, won the bidding against a number of more experienced competitors, including Honeywell International Inc. and IBM Corp.

And the new business, which develops, installs and finances projects designed to improve energy efficiency and maintenance costs, designed an unusual replacement for the regional hospital, a 720-square-foot portable trailer that exceeded all of the requirements set by state regulatory officials for medical structures.

John Gaede, director of information technology at the 150-doctor medical center, said, “The best way to describe the Astro Energy Group is creative and industrious.”

He said the company decided to take an MRI trailer already approved by state regulators and turn it into a portable data center, which handles all of the center’s administrative functions, such as patient records, human resources and accounting.

“They went out and found an MRI trailer that a hospital wasn’t using and with the help of their engineering team, turned the trailer into … a fully functioning data center,” said Gaede.

Gaede said the project cost approximately $1.5 million against the $5 million to $6 million cost of building a brick and mortar building to house IT, not to mention the added months, if not years, of time needed for all of the approvals from various regulators.

“We could save billions of dollars if we could deploy structures like this,” he added. “This was the result of the creative, innovative thinking of the Astro guys.”

Close Industry Connections

Rick Moreno, who serves as chairman of the Astro Group’s board, calls the work “a one off job” but demonstrated what the business can do, given its close connections with highly experienced subcontractors in the electrical and heating, ventilation and air conditioning fields.

Moreno said his crew and contractors completed the project in just five months, after breaking ground in November.

“We fabricated this, and designed it all ourselves,” said Moreno. “We did it on budget and under time, while doubling their capacity,” he added.

Astro is a partnership that resulted after the melding of South County’s Chula Vista Electric Co. and Astro Mechanical Contractors Inc. more than a year ago.

Another partner is electrical contracting consultant Technology Standards Group Inc.

San Diego has become a focal point for the newly emerging green energy sector, and Astro Energy is one of dozens of energy businesses that are helping building and business owners achieve improved energy efficiency.

The business is targeting the government sector, primarily defense and education, as well as commercial buildings.

The company specializes in coming up with energy savings, achieved by such strategies as installing new HVAC systems and electrical systems to save on energy bills.

Ample Experience

The two primary participants have years of experience in the business.

Chula Vista Electric is an 85-year-old contracting firm, while Astro Mechanical has 51 years in the business.

Offspring Astro Energy has helped the two stay competitive in a very slow economy for new construction.

That’s good, because Moreno says the company faces a number of competitors in the market for retrofits to increase energy efficiency, including a division of San Francisco-based oil giant Chevron Corp.

The two principal partners developed much of their expertise when they worked with the State of California Advanced Lighting Controls Training Program, which came with employee training standards.

“The largest amount spent by the landlord is on electrical and mechanical systems,” Moreno added, noting that energy costs are rising 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent a year. “It’s not getting any cheaper.”

“We use technology to monitor what’s going on inside a building, then come up with solutions that reduce power consumption.”

He said newer systems can save up to 35 percent in utility costs.

“Energy conservation is sometimes called the ‘fifth fuel,’ ” said Astro Energy Chief Executive Officer James Masias. “It’s money you don’t have to spend on a precious commodity.”

Tom York is a contributing editor for the San Diego Business Journal.

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