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Cutting energy consumption costs worth initial investment

With fuel costs for electricity production going through the roof, energy conservation for businesses has taken on new urgency. Electric utilities throughout the state are fielding increasingly numbers of inquires from customers about how to save on energy bills.

Some recommendations are simple and don’t take any hardware or software to implement. For example, the Electric Power Association of Mississippi has this advice: “Experiment with raising your usual thermostat setting in summer because every degree raised will save you between 5% to 10% of your bill.”

Technological solutions are also being used to minimize energy use and pare bills. For example, commercial and industrial customers of Entergy Mississippi, Inc. will soon be able to monitor their energy use from the Internet and make cost-saving adjustments via a new service called DataLink. DataLink is a Web-based diagnostic tool that allows large-load customers to analyze energy usage patterns and find ways to increase efficiency, even for multiple sites.

Bye-bye guesswork

“Perhaps the most attractive feature of DataLink is that it takes the guesswork out of energy use,” said Bill Gilreath, director of commercial and industrial accounts, Entergy Mississippi. “The tool gives customers the ability to closely track their energy usage and learn where they can make adjustments to reduce costs and increase efficiency.”

Gilreath said Entergy Mississippi’s account team is stepping up its promotions of DataLink this summer to ensure that customers are aware of the service and its cost-saving benefits, particularly in light of rising energy prices.

“Natural gas has risen more than 120 percent in the last year, meaning that utilities that use natural gas to generate electricity are paying more for the fuel needed to power homes and businesses,” he said. “Rising fuel prices are affecting utility customers across the nation. We want to help lessen the impact of rising energy costs on customers and emphasize the benefits of better energy management.

DataLink puts them on the cutting edge of energy technology and gives them more control over energy use.”
With DataLink, customers can go online anytime from anywhere, with no ties to a specific computer or office location, to track their business’s electricity use. The product gathers information from the electrical meter in 15-minute intervals and compiles the data in detailed reports every hour.

“Customers can use DataLink to track and trend their energy use over time,” Gilreath said. “The data can be used to better determine load reduction, identify and correct electrical problems that could be wasting energy, compare electricity use at multiple sites and create detailed energy budget forecasts. DataLink makes it easy and convenient for our customers to develop an energy strategy for their business. With insights gained from DataLink, they have more control over their energy use and can reduce costs, which helps their bottom line.”

The service includes 24/7 monitoring and support from Entergy Mississippi’s customer service staff and a DataLink Hotline that customers can call whenever they have issues or questions. For more information, businesses may call 1-800-368-3749 and select the option for new equipment to be connected with an Entergy Mississippi representative.

Getting efficient

Since heating and air conditioning are one of the biggest uses of electricity, the number one tip for energy saving tips for businesses is to invest in an energy-efficient electric heat pump, said Melvin Wilson, sales and marketing services manager, Mississippi Power Company.

“In south Mississippi, most energy is used to condition your business,” Wilson said. “When upgrading or adding new heating and air equipment, there is no more efficient unit than an electric heat pump. Mississippi Power can help you determine the right equipment for your business.”

To keep the temperature comfortable without excessive bills, check for leaks in ductwork. Nothing reduces the efficiency more than improperly installed ductwork. Another tip is to install programmable thermostats to automatically control temperature settings on heating and air conditioning equipment.

It is also important to have a monthly plan in place to replace air conditioning filters. This improves air quality along with energy efficiency.

Boosting returns

Another big energy user is lighting. Wilson recommends replacing inefficient lighting and ballast.

“Even if you have already retrofitted a lighting system with energy-efficient core-coil ballasts and ‘watt miser’ lamps, you can get further savings with a T8 conversion,” Wilson said. “The T8 system is, in most cases, the best retrofit method for existing fluorescent lamps.”

Another lighting efficiency tip is to install occupancy sensors in order to reduce lighting costs by turning off lights in unoccupied areas. Also, an often-overlooked economy is setting the thermostat setting on your water heater lower. A setting of 120 degrees is more than adequate for most small businesses (except restaurants).

“Your system is always working to maintain a certain temperature based on the thermostat setting,” Wilson said.

When office equipment isn’t being used, it shouldn’t be draining power. Turn off or set office equipment to power down when not in use. Encourage employees to turn off computers, monitors, printers and copiers when they are not being used.

“Consider equipping computers with devices that turn them off automatically after a set period of inactivity,” Wilson said. “Turning off a typical personal computer during non-working hours saves about $75 per year in energy costs.

Replace incandescent light bulbs with the very energy efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). Even something as simple as replacing 10- or 20-watt incandescent lamps in exit signs with 5-watt compact fluorescents (CFLs) can result is savings of about $15 per year.

Painting the town… green?

There are many other steps businesses can take to reduce energy usage, and the City of Meridian is hoping businesses follow its lead in adopting a strategic plan to “go green”. On Earth Day April 22 Meridian unveiled its plans to improve energy efficiency and reduce pollution. The plan includes 90 strategies to improve the city.

“This is a tremendous undertaking, and I am very proud of the hard work that has produced this real plan of action for our city,” said Mayor John Robert Smith. “Meeting the goals put forward in this plan will not only improve our city’s environment today, but will reach well beyond, ensuring an improved quality of life for generations to come.”

Some of the top items announced for the greening of Meridian include:

• Establishing a baseline carbon footprint that will provide a measurement tool for progress in reducing the city’s environmental impact.

• Establishing a “Green Hotline” for citizens.

• Eliminating unneeded stop signs and traffic signals so citizens use less gas stopping, starting and idling.

• Purchasing only Energy Star equipment and appliances in the future.

• Using LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) recommendations when building new city facilities or upgrading old ones.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at 4becky@cox.net.

About Becky Gillette

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