As Columbia utility customers brace for monthly water and light bills that probably will rise by an estimated average of $6 this fall, city administrators are proposing new and expanded energy conservation measures intended to help consumers — and the city — save money.
“With the cost of power going up, it becomes more advantageous and more economical to conserve,” said Jay Hasheider, energy services supervisor for the city. “We need to get people to conserve, especially during those peak hours.”
Peak energy-use hours usually occur between 3 and 6 p.m. in summer, when the days are hottest. Many customers use gas to heat their homes in winter, so there is no corresponding peak demand on the electric utility. In the summer, Hasheider said, “everyone has an electric air conditioner.”
Water and Light Director Dan Dasho also emphasized the importance of energy conservation and touted the success of his department’s existing programs. One such program allows customers to have switches installed on air conditioners so that the city can turn them off for a few minutes every hour. That saves consumers about 3 percent on electricity bills and eases the demand on the city.
There are about 14,000 switches installed throughout the city, Dasho said, “and when we cycle through them, we get a load reduction.”
Requests for the switches have increased quite a bit this summer as people get word of pending rate increases, Dasho said. “The process of rate increase is one of the most effective ways” to get the message of conservation out, Dasho said. “It will generate a great deal of interest to conserve,” not just energy, but money, too.
Money is also part of what motivates the city to offer conservation programs. “I have to go out and purchase electricity,” Dasho explained. “If you don’t use it, I don’t have to buy it.”
Dasho said he’s willing to spend up to the amount he would normally spend on electricity “to get you not to use it.”
The city uses the media, including its cable-access channel and newsletters, to spread the word about rising utility rates and conservation efforts, Dasho said.
The city’s proposed budget, which is subject to approval by the City Council, includes plans for several new or enhanced conservation programs. They include Energy Star, which is organized by the EPA, and the Building Operator, Commercial Lighting and Ultrasonic Leak Detector programs.
Energy Star is set up by the EPA to help homes and businesses conserve energy. Energy Star rates homes, businesses and products. If it’s approved by Energy Star, it’s an energy saver. By purchasing Energy Star-rated products, such as electronics, or an Energy Star home, built with features such as energy-saving light fixtures, consumers can save about a third on their energy bills, according to the EPA’s Web site.
Midsize commercial energy customers could use the Building Operator program, which trains employees and managers of larger hotels, smaller industries, hospitals or other midsize commercial businesses on how to be more energy-efficient.
“This training involves bringing instructors in from a third-party vendor,” Hasheider said.
The Commercial Lighting Program would be expanded under the proposed budget. In the past, the city offered some rebates to people or businesses that installed compact fluorescent lighting. Hasheider said the department is looking into extending the program to include loans for businesses that want to replace their lighting with more efficient systems.
The last program on the list would benefit industry more than residential or smaller business customers. The Ultrasonic Leak Detector Program would allow industries that use compressed air in their factories to detect any leaks in the miles of pipes they rely upon. You can “tighten that up, and improve the energy efficiency,” Hasheider said.