Whether you run a small factory or an office, you can find ways to save on your company’s utility bills.
Greater environmental sensibilities, as well as the desire to save money in hard economic times, are fueling an interest in finding ways to reduce the amount of power companies use. Energy experts say not every solution requires an investment in expensive equipment up front. In some cases, businesses can recoup their investment in energy-efficient technology in just a few years, and often federal or state tax credits can defray some of the expenses. For larger projects, some companies offer financing.
One piece of good news: even if you do nothing, your electricity bill might shrink next year. The Energy Information Administration estimates that the retail cost of electricity will fall about 1 percent in 2010. However, energy legislation before Congress could increase prices.
Companies that develop a comprehensive energy-saving plan can routinely chop 30 percent off their utility bills, according to businesses that develop such plans.
Here’s how your company can reduce its utility bills:
- Look first at the low-hanging fruit: lighting. Because replacing lighting is relatively inexpensive, it typically offers the best return on investment in terms of energy savings, says Joe Bowling, owner of Energy Wise Solutions in Belmont, N.C., which consults with businesses on energy use. If your business relies on old florescent bulbs, there are likely more energy efficient bulbs and ballasts that hold them now available. Sometimes, businesses can cut 10 percent from their electric bills simply by changing their lighting. You might also consider timers or motion sensors to keep lights off when not needed.
- Consider insulation, weather stripping. Just like you would for your house, look around windows and doors and other places air can get in. This is also usually a strong return on investment.
- Educate your workers. Eddie Cutshaw, a regional president with Energy Chek, a Denver-based company that examines businesses for energy savings, recalls that workers at a Ramada hotel he examined had an energy-wasting habit of leaving cooktops on overnight. The reason: they wanted them to be hot enough to cook eggs when workers arrived the next morning. “We told them, let’s turn that off. It’ll come up in 10 minutes. Sometimes it’s little things like that.”
- Understand tax incentives. Because environmentalism is a hot topic, federal, state and local governments have started offering numerous energy-saving credits and grant programs. The Web site Dsireusa.org has a list of incentives for all 50 states and the federal government. Energystar.gov has plenty of tips. Your tax preparer might also have tips. If you implement a plan that saves enough energy, your company might be eligible for a federal tax deduction of up to $1.80 per square foot under what’s known as a Section 179(d) deduction.
- Examine machinery. Many machines can be electricity hogs. Older ones, especially, probably were not selected for their energy efficiency. “A lot of times, somebody has put a motor in a place that’s too big or too small for the job, but it’s there and it works and they stick with it,” Cutshaw says. In many cases, he says, machines such as chillers and boilers can be retrofitted to save energy at a fraction of the cost of buying a replacement. The machines’ manufacturers might know of such fixes. In offices, examine copies and computers to ensure they’re not using power when not needed.
- Consider an energy audit. Utility companies often offer free inspections to provide advice to businesses on how they can save on energy costs. There are also an increasing number of firms that offer that service for a flat fee, or that make money by referring contractors to do work. Audits can help you understand what parts of your business use the most energy, and at what hours. Look for contractors who are certified by the Building Performance Institute (BPI).