• Business group issues energy challenge
    September 30,2012
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    “We know the best and the least expensive way to deal with energy supply is to not need it at all.”

    Andrea Cohen, VBSR



    By Bruce Edwards

    STAFF WRITER

    A statewide business group in partnership is challenging businesses to cut their energy consumption 5 percent a year for three years.

    Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility has launched Business Energy Action, a program that calls on companies large and small to invest in energy efficiency measures.

    VBSR executive director Andrea Cohen said the idea behind the program is to raise awareness about the value of energy conservation and direct businesses to its program partners.

    “I think there’s been so much conversation and discussion of renewable energy recently, and we’re very supportive of renewable energy sources,” Cohen said. “At the same time we know the best and the least expensive way to deal with energy supply is to not need it at all.”

    VBSR is undertaking the effort with the help of Efficiency Vermont, the statewide energy-efficiency utility. The agency is funded through a surcharge on utility customers’ electric bills.

    Other program partners include Burlington Electric Department and Vermont Gas Systems, which have their own energy-efficiency programs.

    The VBSR challenge will enhance Burlington Electric Department’s efforts at reducing energy consumption, said Mary Sullivan, BED’s communications coordinator.

    “Even though we’ve done a lot here in Burlington, we’re actually using less energy (electricity) than we were in 1989 as a city, we still feel like there’s a lot more to be done,” Sullivan said.

    BED’s 19,000 residential and business customers have reduced electricity usage by 4.7 percent since 1989.

    Cohen said the goal of reducing energy consumption by 5 percent a year over three years is a goal and not a mandate.

    “We know that there are many businesses in the state that have already invested a lot of time and energy to reduce energy usage, and in a sense they’ve already gotten to the low-hanging fruit,” Cohen said. “For them, 5 percent might be harder; for folks who haven’t done anything yet, 5 percent will be really easy.”

    Business Energy Action is in keeping with VBSR’s triple bottom-line philosophy of people, profit and the environment. The benefits of energy-efficiency measures range from energy-cost savings to cutting carbon dioxide emissions.

    The VBSR program is funded through a pair of $50,000 grants obtained with the help of Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt.

    The grants, from the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Department of Energy, will allow VBSR to budget $20,000 a year over five years to cover administrative costs and some marketing to promote the program.

    Jim Merriam, director of Efficiency Vermont, said the effort by VBSR is another avenue to reach out to the state’s businesses.

    “There are 40,000 small businesses in the state of Vermont and there’s no way possible that any single entity could get to each one of those businesses,” he said.

    With the VBSR program referring businesses to Efficiency Vermont, companies can work with Efficiency Vermont’s customer service representatives to devise a plan tailored for their business, he said.

    Those plans could include upgrades to the lighting system as well as thermal improvements to the building to reduce heat loss.

    Merriam said improvements available to small businesses often mirror what’s available to the homeowner.

    Efficiency Vermont defines a small business as a business that uses 100,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year.

    For many small businesses, Efficiency Vermont will provide a self-auditing package to determine energy usage. Efficiency Vermont will then generate a report and recommend energy-efficiency upgrades and qualified contractors.

    Last year, more than 1,200 small to medium businesses took advantage of the services offered by Efficiency Vermont, resulting in total annual electric savings of $2.1 million and thermal savings of more than 21,000 million BTU (heating oil, natural gas and propane).

    So far this year, more than 700 efficiency projects have been undertaken by small to medium businesses.

    All Vermont businesses, not only VBSR members, are invited to join the Business Energy Action challenge.

    Enrollment remains open until late November. Interested parties can visit www.vtbizenergy.org.

    bruce.edwards@ rutlandherald.com
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