Specialty: Air pollution control and sustainability engineering, analysis and permitting
President: Mike Ruby
2000 revenues: $500,000
Projected 2001 revenues: $500,000
Location: Seattle (Fremont)

The electric power crisis means a surge of work for Mike Ruby and his four employees at Fremont-based Envirometrics.

This spring, the air pollution analysis and engineering firm shifted into gear, submitting permit applications to operate mobile, diesel and natural gas generators for Tacoma Power, at least five rural county public utility districts and at least four private entities.

“We’re doing a lot of work helping people permit things” to generate more power and avoid having to buy it at hyper-inflated market rates, company President Mike Ruby said. “These were an emergency thing to respond to this spring’s dysfunctional market.”

When the power crisis subsides, the portable “generator farms” will remain in place as back-ups. At hydroelectric damns, for example, the generators will remain on hand to run during damn repairs, removing the need to meet demand by picking up power off the grid.

Ruby remains adamant that his company won’t grow past its five employees. He’s tried that before and didn’t like it. “I don’t want to go beyond my ability to enjoy it,” he said. “I’m deliberately not adding people.”

Thus, if revenues continue running too far ahead of their $500,000-a-year plateau, as they appear to be now, “we may just shut down after Thanksgiving for the year and have a nice vacation,” Ruby said. “That’s very much a possibility.”

Ruby said the “sustainability” side of his business continues growing.

“I’ve been going to some classes and gotten involved in that kind of stuff,” he said. “I want to start moving the company in that direction.”

Customers, meaning utilities, power companies and industrial plant operators, in the past few years have shifted to voluntarily exceeding regulatory requirements at the front end of planning projects instead of going in with a confrontational approach to regulators, Ruby said. They’re finding that voluntary cooperation is more effective than the alternative.

“Maybe the message this year is that trend is continuing,” Ruby said. “I’ve got a permit going out today,” Ruby said. “This client came in and said I want to get this out right, tell me how to do that. That was his (the client’s) opening shot.”

The client is putting more controls on gases that leak during handling of manufactured products, Ruby said. “He wants to do the best available technology,” setting the standard for others to follow. For Tacoma Power, Ruby laid out various options for installing a diesel generator in the Fife tideflats.

“They put their finger on one of the options and said, ‘If we do this, there are no problems, right?’ I said yes, and they got their permit in less than 30 days.”

Ruby also landed this year in an entertaining niche, which he calls “dynamics of air motion.” People in a University of Washington medical building were complaining about feeling sick and Ruby determined that tainted air came in through vents placed near a truck loading bay.

“We showed that the exhaust was going straight into the air intake,” Ruby said. Finding the problem involved computer modeling and then releasing smoke at the loading bay.

Envirometrics has provided this service for other UW buildings and one private structure in Belltown, Ruby said.

On the power crunch, Ruby, a long-time participant with the Northwest Council on Climate Change, which focuses on the greenhouse effect and global warming, said he fears that the public and the marketplace will overreact and build too much combustion engine-driven capacity.

He feels the best long-term solution is to invest substantially more now in sustainable energy sources.

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