Hamilton energy effort lowers bills, spares power

  • Mike Rutledge
  • Staff Writer
5:52 p.m Friday, April 28, 2017 Hamilton
In the first two years of a three-year contract with the Columbus-based Efficiency Smart organization, most Hamilton businesses and city government have clipped their annual electric use by 7,442 megawatt-hours. Houses across the city decreased theirs by 922 megawatt-hours. And industrial businesses have reduced their draw by another 405. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

The city now can wear smaller shoes, because Hamilton’s electric utility has reduced its “carbon footprint” over the past two years by more than 1.53 percent.

In the first two years of a three-year contract with the Columbus-based Efficiency Smart organization, most Hamilton businesses and city government have clipped their annual electric use by 7,442 megawatt-hours. Houses across the city decreased theirs by 922 megawatt-hours. And industrial businesses have reduced their draw by another 405.

A Megawatt equals one million watts.

Across the two years, Efficiency Smart has cut the need for a total of 8,769 megawatts-hours — enough to light up about 913 homes that use Hamilton’s average of 800 kilowatt-hours per month.

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How much money has been saved?

All three customer categories — residential, industrial and commercial (the category where city government’s savings are included) — together will save an estimated $10.3 million on their bills through the lifetime of those changes. Some of the electric devices, such as light bulbs and appliances, are expected to last decades.

The program offers rebates to encourage utility users to buy energy-efficient appliances and such things as thermostats that can be adjusted remotely by smartphones. Even motion-detection devices, which turn off lights when nobody is in the room, are available. People must be city electric customers to reap the benefits.

Hamilton pays $793,000 per year under the contract.

Viewed from an environmental perspective, Efficiency Smart has reduced the amount of carbon-dioxide emissions by an estimated 216.97 million pounds through the lifetimes of the products installed. That shrinks the city’s carbon footprint — the mark people make on the environment through use of power or products — usually measured in terms of CO2 emissions.

RELATED: Hamilton goes greener, saves electric customers some green

“We are fully embracing the energy-efficiency program, Efficiency Smart, and it’s going very well,” said Michael Gurr, the field-services superintendent for Hamilton’s utilities.

Tom Chambers, chief financial officer of Valley Janitor Supply, a 52-year-old business at 401 S. Third St., estimates the program is saving his company 5-8 percent — about $500 a month — and will pay for itself in less than four years.

“The lights we had were old and inefficient,” he said. “Now we’ve got the high-output, low-power use, and they turn themselves off, when no one’s around.”

“You’ve just got to pull the trigger, and pay the money up front,” he said.

For residents, the city has been making some efficient light bulbs — compact fluorescent lamps (CFL’s), which can last 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs; and light emitting diodes (LED’s), which can last 25 times longer — available to residents for $1 per pack.

After the program’s first two years, which ended Jan. 31, Efficiency Smart was 72.6 percent of the way toward the contract’s three-year goal of reducing energy draws by 8,898. By April 9, that had climbed to 107 percent of the goal, Efficiency Smart’s executive director, Everett Woodel Jr. told Hamilton City Council. Some 9,544 megawatt-hours had been reduced with almost nine months remaining.

Growth in commercial, industrial; dip in residential

Including city projects and work on charitable organizations — such as the Open Door Pantry; the Serve City Food Pantry and homeless shelter; and the Booker T. Washington Community Center — Efficiency Smart didn’t merely help the lower-income residents who use those facilities by distributing efficient bulbs to them. But it also helped those organizations lower their utility bills, with the help of Council Member Matt Von Stein and other International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, by installing energy-saving overhead lighting.

“It went wonderful,” said Executive Director Linda Kimble of Serve City. “We haven’t got a full cycle of the new utility bill yet, but I expect it will be dramatically lower. And the lighting is much better than what we had, so we’re thrilled.”

As for LED bulbs, “We’ve given them out to over a thousand families,” she said.

Christopher Terry, a guest service representative at Serve City, called the effort “an outstanding program,” because the efficient lights not only save on utilities but are brighter than the ones they replace.

“It helps the community all the way around,” he said.

Participation by commercial users and the city was 254 percent more robust in the second year than the first, based on megawatt-hours that were saved. Savings by industrial customers also was 162 percent higher than in the first year.

Gurr said those increases in Year 2 happened because it took program leaders a while to evaluate what programs could be put into place for companies, and then it took time for the businesses to budget money for the improvements.

“Now we’re starting to reap the benefits of the hard work we put in Year 1, and the continuation we’ve done in Year 2.”

On the other hand, residential participation slipped almost 33 percent in the second year, according to a Journal-News analysis.

“We did see a little bit of a tail-off in Year 2 on the residential side,” Gurr said. “I’m not that we can put our finger on what exactly was the attribute to that.”

“Efficiency Smart is not a requirement of customers,” he said. “It’s more or less a program that is offered, and it is a volunteer basis.”

“We did have a tremendous amount of interest in, for example, our lighting buy-down program, which was a big success in Year 2, and we’re continuing that in Year 3,” Gurr said.

“It’s something that we are very aware of, and that’s why in Year 3, I’m making a significant stance on making sure that we are over-emphasizing more efforts on the residential, the special-markets side (which includes underprivileged and disadvantaged people) — not to say that we’re slowing down, or taking away from the commercial or industrial side,” Gurr said.

“But, we want to make sure that we are trying to maximize our performance and opportunities on the residential side, in Year 3,” he said. “We honesty are doing everything we possibly can to get the word out.”

Among things the city has done have been messages in utility bills and on electronic messages.

Lowering homeowners’ bills

Residential headway is more difficult because some business properties that have been involved have large properties. Also, a significant amount of residents live in apartments, so residents who don’t pay electric bills with their rent aren’t helped by cheaper bulbs or appliance efficient appliances.

Woodel told council this month he expected homes this year to represent 54 percent of energy reductions, by 1,701 megawatt-hours — a figure almost 85 percent bigger than what happened for homes in the first two years.

One goal the city had was to help residential customers lower their bills at the same time city electric rates were increasing.

In 2015, the typical city customer was paying about $99.08. With higher rates in 2016, “that same customer, with 800 kilowatts, would have paid $101.83.”

But that increase can be more than erased through Efficiency Smart, he said, because their average bill should drop power use more than the rates increase “If you still factor in the rate increase, they’re still positive by two-and-a-half bucks.”

Mayor Pat Moeller this month thanked Woodel this month for “your enhanced focus on the residential areas. That’s already been a partial success, and the social-services success as well,” he said.

Gurr said the city is looking at what Efficiency Smart can provide, as well as what other options might be for the city to further improve the system. “We hope to have a program of some kind, at the completion of this contract.”

The savings created by the program are about 6 times larger than what the city is paying for the contract, and will continue to grow, Gurr said.

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TO LEARN MORE

The Efficiency Smart program can loan residents small meters that they plug into their appliances as a way to see how much each appliance costs them.

“And over a period of time, it will show what the total kilowatt-hour consumption is for that period of time,” said Michael Gurr, the field-services superintendent for Hamilton’s utilities. That meter can be mailed directly to customers.

People can sign up or learn more about the program by calling the city at 513-785-7100.

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