[Editor's note: This story was originally published in the January 2013 issue of Energy Services Bulletin.]
Holy Cross Energy recently chose Mary Wiener, a former energy advisor with Boulder County EnergySmart, to head up its energy-efficiency program. Throughout the year, Energy Services Bulletin will follow Wiener in her first utility job, as she develops programs to reduce members’ energy use and reach Holy Cross’s ambitious goals.
Utilities with established energy-efficiency programs must perform a balancing act. On one hand, offerings and strategies must be updated to reflect changes in technology, fuel prices and load and market conditions. On the other, few consumers have the time or inclination to follow an ever-changing menu of rebates and incentives.
Holy Cross’s carbon reduction program has successfully walked the tightrope since the Glenwood Springs, Colo.-based cooperative introduced it eight years ago. In the fall of 2012, Wiener joined the utility as its first energy-efficiency program administrator to take the program through its next evolution. “People are familiar with WE CARE, but the rebates are changing,” she explained. “We’re relaunching the program Jan. 2 with a new marketing plan and logo specifically to communicate those changes to our customers.”
The biggest change in Holy Cross’s program is its focus on the commercial sector. The utility’s plan to save 33,039 megawatt-hours (MWh) over five years is committing 60 percent of the WE CARE funding to an energy efficiency portfolio, and two-thirds of the portfolio funding to commercial programs.
Holy Cross will continue to offer incentives to help residential customers make their homes more comfortable and efficient, but the commercial sector uses far more energy. “Recreation and tourism are the biggest industries in the Roaring Fork and Vail valleys, and ski resorts are Holy Cross’s biggest customers,” Wiener pointed out. “If we are going to reach our goal of 6,600 megawatts of incremental savings annually, we have to reduce the biggest load.”
Opportunities in every business
The program takes aim at those customers with rebates for refrigeration, motor and lighting upgrades. “Lighting is a great place for businesses to reduce energy use, and it opens doors to talk about other improvements because it’s everywhere,” notes Wiener. “Ski resorts, hotels and restaurants may call about lighting upgrades, but learn that upgrading to more efficient motors or refrigeration systems offers even more savings.”
Motor loads may not be as obvious to a hospitality business as lighting, but they are just as important to saving energy. Improving motor efficiency in water treatment systems, air handlers, agricultural pumps and even cooling equipment could give Holy Cross a big push toward its goal. Coming from Colorado’s Front Range, and EnergySmart’s generous rebate for rooftop cooling units, Wiener learned that air conditioning in the mountains in the summer is a bigger load than most people realize.
One issue that is the same on either side of the Continental Divide is that commercial lighting has plenty of room for improvement. Wiener recalled that about 90 percent of the rebates EnergySmart paid out were for efficient lighting upgrades. Lighting became her specialty, and she has applied that expertise to developing more sophisticated incentives for Holy Cross. “Customers can still get rebates for LEDs and controls, but the rebates are for watts saved, rather than one-for-one lamp replacement,” she explained.
Wiener added that her experience is also helpful when dealing with contractors. “I can look at quotes and suggest different solutions,” she said. “Sometimes, contractors need a little push to think outside the box; for example, using low-wattage 28-watt T8s instead of 32-watt units.”
Unique residential challenge
Wiener admits to being less familiar with residential efficiency, but is learning fast from Holy Cross Energy Auditor Eileen Wysocki. Holy Cross offers residential customers complimentary walk-through audits with an infrared camera, and she has joined Wysocki on several occasions. The audits will continue to be part of Holy Cross’s residential efficiency program.
Even if she had more residential experience, Wiener would be encountering a different challenge in Holy Cross’s territory—the large, second-home property. Unlike primary residences on the Front Range, these homes sit unoccupied for long periods. With multiple refrigerators and freezers, entertainment systems, heating and cooling systems, spas, incandescent lighting, heat tape and snowmelt systems, these homes can use more energy than a small business. “It takes more than an understanding of building science to reduce the energy use in big vacation homes,” Wiener acknowledged. “We are actively working with property managers and homeowners to help minimize energy use in these homes when they are unoccupied.”
Ropes to learn
Wiener has set some other goals for the next year, both personally and professionally. Because she is new to the Roaring Fork Valley, as well as to the utility industry, she plans to get acquainted with as many businesses as possible. “Holy Cross has a reputation as a utility that cares about its customers, and I’m going to build on that,” she said.
Another priority is to make it as easy as possible for customers to submit rebate paperwork for prescriptive measures, or to design their own custom efficiency packages. “We’re in the market to buy ‘negawatts’— or more simply, we are paying for energy savings,” she said. “If they are already making the effort to reduce their energy load, they should be rewarded for their efforts.”
The biggest hurdle for Wiener, however, is just getting the word out and hitting Holy Cross’s goal. Western wishes Mary Wiener and Holy Cross good luck with the new energy-efficiency program and looks forward to following their progress.