March 29, 2007

New program pays you for energy-efficient buildings

  • Snohomish County PUD will pay up to 70 percent of the cost of energy-saving measures for new commercial projects.
    Special to the Journal

    Developers of new commercial and industrial buildings are being offered financial incentives and technical assistance by Snohomish County PUD that could pay up to 70 percent of each project through the utility’s newest energy conservation program.

    “We can help businesses by identifying energy-saving strategies early in the design phase of a new project,” said Garth Williams, senior manager of energy services. “High-efficiency buildings bring numerous benefits for developers, businesses and the community at large. Beyond the actual energy savings, improved designs reduce environmental impacts, lower operating costs and create more comfortable work settings.”

    For years, like most utilities, the PUD has helped businesses lower energy costs and improve services through its retrofit program. In mid-January, a commercial incentive program was launched in response to interest from builders and developers who recognized the advantages of installing energy-saving equipment and designs early in the construction process, said Neil Neroutsos, PUD spokesman.

    “We found that many projects are not budgeted to include the extra funding needed for high-efficiency energy measures,” Neroutsos said, “so we decided that offering financial incentives to make up the cost difference would help them to include the current best levels of conservation measures in their projects, rather than going with what is really just enough to meet code. Based on kilowatt hours of savings, our high-efficiency programs cost about 10 percent more than code.”

    The program covers such high-efficiency measures as lighting and controls, heating and ventilation equipment, chillers and variable-speed drives for commercial, industrial, school, nonprofit or government projects. Each customer’s needs are matched by a flexible incentive program worked out with the utility. To qualify, projects must be designed to operate at least 10 percent more efficiently than the standard required by the state Non-Residential Energy Code or the best current practice if no code requirement applies.

    Starting up

    The utility is close to signing its first customer for the new construction incentive program and may complete an agreement with two others soon, said Executive Account Manager Tom Hovde.

    “We’ve gotten a lot of positive reaction. Initially, we’re focusing on lighting projects but we’re ready to start working with builders on HVAC installations and other systems. We’re just beginning to get the word out,” he said.

    What’s in all of this for the PUD? Less need to buy high-priced power on the open market, Hovde said.

    “Part of what’s driving this is that increased power conservation efforts will reduce our need for electricity and our costs. That’s why we’re using the incentive money to spur more installation of energy-efficient features in new construction,” he said. “Since we’re one of the state’s fastest growing counties, we figure there will be a lot of new construction over the next few years so we want to encourage energy-effective projects. We don’t want to miss those opportunities.”

    Already saving energy

    The value of investing in energy savings already has been proven through the PUD’s 20-year-old retrofit program that has reduced power use for more than 500 commercial customers in just the past two years, Hovde said.

    From 1992 to 2002, Boeing saved millions of dollars by upgrading to lights and motors that use less power, resulting in an 18 percent reduction in its electric bill and saving enough energy to power 5,300 homes. In 2000, according to the utility, Boeing’s Everett plant reached an eight-year low in its consumption of electricity at the same time it was ramping up production on its new 777 airliner.

    Crown Distributing, a beverage marketing business in Arlington, followed up a 2003 PUD energy audit of its operations by upgrading light fixtures in its warehouse. The investment reduced the facility’s energy use by 146,000 kilowatt hours a year, a 60 percent decrease that saved $10,000 annually while significantly increasing the level of warehouse lighting.

    Everett Mutual Tower, one of the city’s tallest buildings, is an all-electric facility with 142,000 square feet of office space. In 2001 the building’s owner, Skotdal Real Estate, explored energy-saving ventures with the PUD and reduced its annual 3 million kilowatt hours of use by 400,000 kilowatt hours mainly by upgrading lighting and HVAC equipment. By saving $39,000 a year in energy costs, the work had an estimated payback of only four years for the lighting and three years for the HVAC changes.

    Trade Products in Lynnwood, a manufacturer of pull-tab tickets, asked the PUD staff to analyze the compressed-air system that operated printing presses, die cutters, laminators and other pneumatic equipment in its 75,000-square-foot facility. By replacing fixed-speed compressors with variable-speed units, the company cut power demands by 397,000 kilowatt hours a year, nearly half of its usual power use, and saved $32,000 annually.

    Because the utility’s incentive program also paid 70 percent of the company’s $48,000 investment in the new equipment, “there was no way anybody could say ‘no’ to this project,” said Soren Petersson, the company’s machine maintenance supervisor.

    “But our successful retrofit program never applied to new construction,” Hovde said. “Now we’ve filled that gap with this new program,” said Hovde, who also has been working with Providence Everett Medical Center on its $500 million campus expansion, now in the planning stages.

    “Another driver for non-residential customers,” he said, “is recognition in the community for using green designs for saving electricity. I think that has even greater value than ever these days.”

    Terry Stephens is a business freelance writer in Arlington. He can be reached by e-mail at


    Terry Stephens is a freelance writer based in Arlington. He can be reached by e-mail at

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