Use Less, Spend Less Concept Drives Energy Efficiency Bus

by Lance Escue, Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), and Leigh Morris, Ameren Illinois

Spending less by using less energy is a straightforward yet seemingly elusive goal for many businesses.

We often hear, “I know we should do something about energy efficiency, but solutions are complex, time-consuming, and expensive.”

Cash-strapped business owners can be excused for focusing on the cost of improvements rather than the payoffs. In doing so, however, they fail to realize that many times the lost energy savings incurred by postponing an energy efficiency project for one year are greater than the cost of the project. Doing a project now is the better financial decision.

Successfully overcoming this objection requires quick, easy and inexpensive solutions designed to produce immediate savings that will encourage those business customers to take more aggressive energy efficiency actions.

In part, the Ameren Illinois Act On Energy program was created to develop initiatives that range from inexpensive, fast-start, energy efficiency solutions to projects that require significant investments to produce major reduced energy costs.

The following initiatives are the fabulous four in the Act On Energy business program lineup.

Taking on the T-12

“Our business customers can realize significant savings when they participate in our lighting program,” said Cheryl Miller, Act On Energy business program manager. “For example, simply replacing a standard T-12 fluorescent light fixture with a high-efficiency T-8 fluorescent fixture can reduce electricity consumption by 33 percent. Even greater savings can be achieved with the T-5.”

In addition to reducing energy costs, lighting projects can improve employee productivity and customer satisfaction.

The Canton (Ill.) Family YMCA, for example, received a $24,416 incentive check for its high-efficiency lighting project that has reduced its energy costs 50 percent. When the savings are coupled with the incentive payment, the YMCA recovered its investment within 18 months. It saves some $20,000 per year, said Don Heller, executive director of the Canton Family YMCA.

“There are several factors that affect our bottom line and allow us to serve kids, families, seniors and the community better,” Heller said. “Electrical and maintenance costs are factors that affect our business. By saving money on our energy and maintenance costs, we can provide better programs and facilities to our community that will enhance their lives. That is the Canton Family YMCA mission.”

While large projects make the local news, smaller commercial customers quietly take advantage of significant incentives to rid themselves of T-12s before production of the lights is phased out in 2012, Miller said. For instance, customers now can buy T-8s at a discounted price of $3 to $7 per lamp and receive an additional 10 percent discount.

“For a very small investment, small businesses and nonprofits can immediately reduce what often is their second-largest energy expense: lighting,” Miller said. “Once these customers see the benefits of this one energy efficiency action, they often are ready to take the next step.”

Green Nozzle Squeezes Natural Gas Costs

A typical commercial kitchen pre-rinse water nozzle uses 3 gallons of hot water per minute, making it an easy energy efficiency target.

Instead of the usual 3 gallons, the Act On Energy Green Pre-rinse Nozzle uses 0.64 gallons of water per minute without sacrificing water pressure. The nozzle saves the typical commercial kitchen $500 or more in annual natural gas costs, and this doesn’t include the water bill savings achieved through decreased water usage.

The Green Pre-rinse Nozzle is offered free to eligible natural gas customers with one requirement: Customers must provide a photo of the installed nozzle.

Vince McGraw is the general manager of the Hometown Buffet in Peoria, Ill. He’s a fan of the nozzle.

“The Green Nozzle is saving us money, and I’d definitely recommend this program to other businesses,” he said.

Small Business Online Store

Small business is the backbone of the U.S. economy. Small businesses employ half of private-sector employees and generated up to 80 percent of all new jobs during the past decade, according to data from North Central College in Naperville, Ill. Small businesses pay nearly half the total private payroll.

Nevertheless, small businesses face plenty of challenges: Regulations, tax codes, competition and securing needed capital are among them.

Act On Energy created its Small Business Online Store to make energy efficiency quick, easy and affordable for small-business owners. Jeff Ingle, general manager of the Decatur Club, begin by changing the entire facility’s incandescent lights to compact fluorescent lights (CFLs).

“I would most definitely recommend the Act On Energy online store to other small businesses,” Ingle said.

Through the online store, small-business customers may purchase sharply discounted CFLs. It’s the quickest and easiest way to start energy efficiency. For every 10 incandescent lights that are replaced by CFLs, the typical small business saves some $170 a year in energy costs.

The online store also has taken on incandescent exit signs. The typical small business has at least four of these exit signs brightly showing the way 24 hours a day. Act On Energy has invited small businesses to replace their incandescent exit signs with efficient LED signs. Customers may purchase LED exit signs for $6.88 each (compared with $25.75 retail) to realize $60 per sign in annual electricity savings. This results in a 1.4-month payback.

Small-business owners also discover they can evict the energy hogs dwelling within vending machines. All they need is Act On Energy energy misers. With discount pricing as low as $24.50, energy misers can cut beverage vending machine energy costs some $140 per year. The payback is two months.

There is an old adage: Empty rooms abhor light. Employees and business owners, however, often forget to flip the switch. Motion detectors with a discount price of $10 per unit solve the problem and cut the lighting bill 40 to 80 percent.

Discount-priced T-8 lamps and electronic ballasts help small businesses further tame lighting costs. By replacing one magnetic ballast and four T-12 lamps with an electronic ballast and four energy-efficient T-8 lamps, a business will save about $12 a year resulting in about a 2-year payback.

15 Percent Solution

Each year Ameren Illinois offers business and nonprofit customers a series of symposiums to learn how they can cut their energy spending further and become eligible for Act On Energy financial incentives.

The symposiums allow customers to learn about the latest Act On Energy incentives, to receive no-cost and low-cost energy efficiency tools, to share best energy efficiency practices, and to meet the Act On Energy program ally contractors.

In addition, representatives of local governments and other public entities whose energy efficiency programs are administered by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity are encouraged to attend a symposium.

All eligible Ameren Illinois customers who attend a symposium receive a 15 percent bonus incentive coupon for Act On Energy business programs. To date, businesses that have redeemed their 2010 symposium bonus coupons will save 36 million kilowatt-hours—enough electricity to power more than 3,300 homes for a year, Miller said.

“Our Act On Energy programs can assist businesses and non-profits reduce energy costs with financial incentives and sound advice on upgrading lighting, refrigeration, motors, heating and cooling systems, along with other energy efficiency projects,” Miller said.

Honored for Innovation

Act On Energy received two 2010 Inspiring Efficiency Awards from the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (MEEA). One award was presented for the WATT Solutions initiative launched in April 2009 when Ameren Illinois donated WATT Solutions kits that feature power use-measuring meters to the five downstate library systems. The kits also contain instructions and energy efficiency advice. The initiative allows library patrons to borrow WATT Solutions kits through their local libraries at no cost.

MEEA also honored Act On Energy for the Kroger LED lighting initiative. This high-efficiency lighting project is sharply reducing energy consumption in the frozen food reach-in cases and refrigerated dairy and beverage cases at 30 Illinois Kroger Co. stores.

Act On Energy website:


Lance Escue, energy program manager for SAIC, has more than 20 years of program and facility management experience, including industrial plant, environmental investigation/remediation, energy efficiency and nuclear power plant areas of emphasis.

Leigh Morris, senior communications executive for Ameren Illinois, has more than 43 years of communications experience. He was a Chicago newspaper reporter before moving into corporate communications. His experience includes public relations, advertising, and government relations.


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