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The flick of a switch 

by Pia K. Hansen


Turn off the lights when you leave your room," my dad used to yell after me every day as I headed out the door for school. "Who do you think is going to read in there while you're at school? The spiders?"


If my dad considered applying for a job with Avista these days, I think he'd have a good chance of getting hired. With a little moderation, his ideas of power conservation -- which included turning off the hot water during the day, temporarily banning hair dryers and NEVER leaving the light on outside -- would come in handy, as Avista is pushing private and commercial power consumers to become more aware of how they spend their kilowatts.


Power consumers in the Inland Northwest now need to worry not only about the cost, but also about the availability of the power they depend on. Because of the drought, the amount of cheap hydropower will be limited this summer, and California's energy deregulation crisis has impacted the entire West Coast, driving up the price of wholesale power on the market.


Since business and industrial consumers are the ones who use the most power, Avista is targeting these "power hogs" with big incentives and savings programs -- and for some, the results are just now beginning to show.


"Our energy conservation program has been in effect since January 24, this year," says Jeff Philipps, president of Rosauers. "What we did was, in our Spokane and Moscow stores, we curtailed our hours so we are now closed between midnight and 5 am. During that period, all outdoor signs are out, and the parking lot lights are also turned off as soon as our employees have made it to their cars."


Rosauers -- just like Albertson's, Costco and many other grocery stores -- has also implemented less drastic power saving measures.


"We reduced lighting for the night crew [the people who stock shelves and clean] to one-third of what it used to be," says Philipps, "and we have reduced the temperature in the stores as well."


So far, Rosauers has shaved more than 6 percent off its power bill, and the projected savings run in the neighborhood of 1,100,000 kilowatt hours (Kwh) by the end of the year. Philipps is pretty surprised how fast the savings have added up.


"We didn't know how big the savings were going to be, but we're impressed," he says.


Have consumers been upset by the shortened hours and the mood lighting in the stores?


"No, so far no one seems upset about it," says Philipps. "Whether we continue looking for more ways to preserve energy also depends on the rest of the retail community. But it's worked great for us." The store has also cut back on lighting in display cases.


The key to achieving great savings, says Philipps, has been the cooperation between Avista and Rosauers: "They have provided us with great incentives and great people to figure out how to do this."





One of the people who helps businesses cut their usage is Doug Kelley, a regional account executive who has spent 17 years working with Avista. He has worked with area businesses, restaurants and building managers -- and he's been very busy lately.


"Restaurants, for instance, run for many hours, you know, 16-18 hours in a row, and their number one power consuming piece of equipment is their heating and cooling system," says Kelley. "We come out and actually look at how the equipment operates, to make sure it runs at its highest efficiency. As an incentive for the commercial clients to check things out, we'll reimburse them for the cost of having a contractor come out and do a maintenance program on their rooftop units."


Outdoor signs are also big power suckers. "Signage is a major factor, and one can ask how much businesses gain from having them on from midnight until morning," says Kelley. "I know that Bank of America has mandated that they turn off their outdoor signs. Some local banks may soon do so as well."


At a recent local energy summit hosted by Avista, the Downtown Spokane Partnership (DSP), Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) and the Inland Empire Rental Association targeting mainly commercial real estate managers, apartment managers and business, participants were flooded with power conservation ideas.


In some buildings, power is included with the rent -- in others tenants pay directly to Avista -- but regardless of the setup, managers say they are working for the common good, and not just trying to cut power consumption for their own benefit.


"We try to look at the future. We want to protect the rate structure, and the price of power, so Avista won't have to dig into the reserves," says Larry Soehren, chairman of DSP and vice president of BOMA International. "It's not like all of these greedy property owners are just out to get all the money." He doesn't know how much can be saved on power downtown yet, but says everyone seems committed to do the best they can.


Since heating and cooling consumes the most energy, that's also where the biggest savings can be found. At the summit, Avista representatives presented a horror slide show of beaten-up and broken-down air conditioning units that had been found -- barely alive -- on Spokane's rooftops.


"Old air conditioning units are bad, period," says Michael Littrel, an integrated systems specialist from Avista. "And while you are at it, you want to get rid of the old sliding thermostats. Air conditioning should be set at 78 degrees -- yes, this may generate some complaints, but then you can lower it a little."


Building managers should make sure that thermostats follow the same schedule, turning off air conditioning as workers leave the building for the night and not turning it on until tenants start coming back in the morning.


Just as hot air needs to be kept inside in the winter, cool air also needs to be contained in the summer.


"A one-quarter-inch leak around an entry door, for instance, equals a 16-inch hole in the wall," says Littrel, "and where most of you would immediately do something about the hole, applying weather stripping is not always as obvious."


Another point that was made over and over again at the summit was to enlist the help of staff, tenants and janitors. Janitors can turn off lights and copiers that have been left on, close drapes and doors and make sure light fixtures and vents are clean.


Avista provides free consulting services to any business interested in cutting down on its power bill, but not to private consumers. Kelley says that's regrettable, but for now Avista has to focus on commercial and industrial sites.





That doesn't mean there's nothing private homeowners can do -- and since every kilowatt adds up, even a small change in how you run your home can make a big difference.


"Compact fluorescent bulbs are a big deal. If you put those in, you start saving immediately," says Kelley. "Even if you are already doing a lot, this may be what takes you over that 5 percent so you can participate in the buy-back program."


The next best thing to having an energy consultant come out to your home, is to take the Home Energy Analysis on Avista's Web site (www.avistautilities.com). From here, homeowners can also download a long list of energy conservation tips -- some of which may not be that obvious.


In private homes, heating and cooling are also the most power demanding. By installing an automatic thermostat that turns down the heat at night and during the day if no one is home, most will see big savings right away. The same goes for turning down the water heater to 120 degrees, and only running washers and dishwashers with full loads.


Another power-sucker that few people consider is the TV. A color TV with a tube uses about as much power in a month as the clothes dryer. Computer screens left on also use a lot of power. Some are reluctant to turn off their hard drives, but screens should definitely be turned off when no one is working at them.


In the appliance department, newer appliances are much more energy efficient than old ones.


"People save most power by focusing on energy efficient laundry. Washers today are much more energy efficient, and they use less water," says Mike Mohondro, who has sold appliances for Fred's Appliance and Home Entertainment for 20 years. "As for fridges, this year the new machines are up to 30 percent more efficient. Air conditioning still uses a lot of power; it really doesn't matter which one you pick, they are all energy hogs."


He'd like for Avista to offer rebate coupons to people who buy low-energy appliances. "They do that in some places in Oregon, and I believe Avista is one of the few utility companies that don't offer any rebates like that," says Mohondro.


Avista, so far, doesn't have any plans to offer these coupons, but it does offer rebates on programmable thermostats ($50), high efficiency electric or natural gas water heaters ($50), on high efficiency heat pumps ($300) and on high efficiency natural gas furnaces ($200). All of these must follow Avista's specifications to qualify for the rebate, so call in before you hit the appliance store.
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