Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 14, 2013

Save energy, save money

BY GLENN PUIT gpuit@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Making snow takes a lot of electricity.

So does lighting a car dealership or cooling and heating hospital rooms all day and night. Simply put, energy costs are among business' chief expenses.

“We use about 6 million kilowatt hours per year, and our whole complex uses about 300,000 gallons of propane a year,” said Jim MacInnes, president and co-owner of Crystal Mountain resort, which has implemented a comprehensive energy efficiency program because it saves money and helps the environment.

“Our (annual) energy bill is about 1.3 million … and I think it could be at least 50 percent higher without energy efficiency,” MacInnes said. “There are significant savings.”

Stephen Tongue, vice president of facilities at Munson Medical Center, said the hospital spends about $3.5 million a year on energy. The figure includes $2.6 million for electricity and another $800,000 for natural gas. The hospital joined the Energy Star program in December 2008. The hospital now consumes about 3 percent less than the mean of energy consumption of 110 other hospitals in the Midwest.

“Because of the economic pressures hospitals face, we are looking at energy efficiency to reduce costs, and it’s also an important part of sustainability,” Tongue said. “It’s a win-win for the community.”

But officials with large commercial electric users say energy efficiency has to be a critical component of a company’s overall business strategy in order to save money. Munson officials identified 20 projects for the 2009-2010 calendar year and spent about $335,000 to implement them. Annual energy savings were estimated at $367,000, and saved the hospital a huge amount of money over time.

Munson Engineer Tom Beatty said the hospital carried out lighting retrofits and installed variable frequency drives for chiller plants. They’ve even installed devices that turn off lighting on vending machines when no one is standing before them. Beatty said using technology that monitors the speed of chilling pumps saved significant chunks of money, as has the installation of energy-saving light bulbs throughout much of Munson's one-million square feet of space.

“If you slow (chilling pumps' speed) down to 80 percent, you are saving half of the energy,” Beatty said.

Munson Facilities Maintenance Manager Ed Belanger said swapping out old rooftops for more energy efficient ones and simple maintenance checks to boilers saves money and also offer chances for rebates.

“(For) a boiler tune-up, you get a $500 rebate for something you do anyways,” Belanger said.

MacInnes speaks about energy efficiency at Crystal Mountain with passion. He said the resort replaced 250 lights that use 150-watt heat generating incandescent light bulbs in the facility’s 33,000-square-foot conference center and changed to 13-watt dimmable LEDs. Crystal saves about 74,000 kilowatt hours per year as a result. Lighting changes help reduce summer cooling loads by 15 percent, MacInnes said, and cut costs on maintenance labor because the new bulbs last longer.

Jamie Marsh of Bill Marsh Auto Group said the company is replacing more than 100 light fixtures at its Hyundai facility on U.S. 31 to save money -- and because they believe it’s the right thing to do.

At Crystal, a huge savings is found in its work with electric providers Cherryland Electric and Wolverine Power to manage its electrical use at peak electric times. Demand side-management prompts Crystal to shut down snow-making at times of peak electrical demands, helping the resort save $35,000 every 15 minutes during peak periods.

“We shed three megawatts of electric load during winter monthly peaks,” MacInnes said.

The Michigan Land Use Institute issued a report a year ago that stated if half of Grand Traverse County businesses and all county homes cut energy use by 25 percent over the next 15 years, the energy savings would pay off the cost of the projects and save $72 million over a 30-year period.

Officials with regional electric providers Cherryland, Consumers and Traverse City Light & Power said they are working to encourage energy efficiency among their customers. Traverse City Light & Power recently gave $100,000 to a Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce low-interest loan program for business owners who want to improve energy efficiency.

"We have seven active energy efficiency loans out, and of those seven projects, 513,000 kilowatt hours are saved annually," said Laura Galbraith, the chamber's vice president of administration. "We recognize that energy consumption and costs associated with it impacts the bottom line of every business."