Energy efficiency program extended to Fresno businesses

An employee with Richard Heath & Associates replaces a light bulb at Herbalife in Fresno.An employee with Richard Heath & Associates replaces a light bulb at Herbalife in Fresno.For several years now, the City of Fresno has been providing home energy assessments and upgrades for its residents in an effort to shave money off their utility bills.

Now, it’s extending those same services to businesses within the city as it expands a program with Pacific Gas & Electric Co. to carry out lighting upgrades, more efficient ventilation systems and other building improvements.

Launched in April with $750,000 in funding from the California Public Utilities Commission, Fresno’s Business Energy Tune-Up pilot program has so far conducted audits for some 16 properties within the city showing where energy is being lost and retrofits to fix the leaks are possible.

According to Fresno’s Sustainability Manager Joseph Oldham, the audits have shown a potential for savings of tens of thousands of kilowatt-hours per site annually and up to $200,000 cut from utility bills.

A few projects valued in the tens of thousands of dollars have already gotten started, he said, while even larger investments are expected by the time the funding cycle ends in December 2014.

“The goal here is every audit would convert to a retrofit in some way and we want to touch about 110 businesses during the effort,” said Oldham.

Most energy efficiency measures go a long way in improving a building’s envelope, like sealing cracks, repairing air ducts, adding insulation and fixing old heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.

Others are as simple as lighting upgrades, such as replacing T12 fluorescent bulbs and fixtures with lower-wattage T8 bulbs for an energy savings of around 30 percent or replacing incandescent lights with metal halide to save more than 50 percent.

Refrigeration units are also getting more efficient, Oldham said, while technicians are seeing opportunities for control systems that shut down fans and other equipment when not in use. Renewable components like solar also come up in the audits as well.

“Many people think energy cost isn’t something they can do anything about and in almost every case we find opportunity where people can make wise investments,” he said.

Fresno’s Business Energy Tune-Up is an extension of the Energy Watch program that PG&E offers in partnership with 14 local governments in 30 counties throughout California, including Madera, Kern, Monterey, Yolo and the Sierra Nevada.

Contracting with Fresno-based energy efficiency contractor Richard Heath & Associates, the regional initiatives provide eligible businesses with lighting retrofits and other simple upgrades at no cost.

Following the new funding given in January—raised by ratepayers through the public purpose charge on their energy bills—the City of Fresno expanded its role in the local program with more intensive audits performed by its own contractor ConSol of Stockton.

And unlike the basic building enhancements that RHA will continue to deliver at no charge as part of Fresno’s basic Energy Watch program, the latest addition now also has the city targeting larger PG&E customers ranging from 200 kilowatt-hours to 500 kilowatt-hours in annual energy usage that were previously not served.

“We’re hitting those businesses that are separated,” Oldham said. “It’s no longer a no-cost lighting upgrade. There is now a cost to the upgrades but it’s still a bargain.”

While the City of Fresno caters to city businesses, the expanded program also reaches out to rural communities outside of the Fresno/Clovis metropolitan area through the marketing help of the Economic Development Corporation serving Fresno County.

Naturally, however, the city is taking the lead in coordinating the project in light of its experience working with PG&E on both Fresno Energy Watch and the similar Home Energy Tune-Up program launched in 2009.

The latter program, started up with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy and the California Energy Commission, has had the city coordinating in-home energy assessments to thousands of residents from Madera to Kern counties to help them save $300 to $2,400 per year on their power bills.

Fresno’s assessment and energy upgrade services to businesses and residents both fall under the moniker of Central Valley Energy Tune-Up.

Together, they complement residential and commercial rebate programs for energy improvements like Energy Upgrade California, PG&E’s On-Bill Financing Program and commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy financing programs in which building owners pay back upgrades through assessments on their property tax bills.

Businesses and homeowners can find out more by going online at centralvalleyenergytuneup.org. The more basic Fresno Energy Watch program serviced by RHA is explained in greater detail at energywatchinfo.com.