Energy woes sparking bright ideas

  • Kathy Day / Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, July 10, 2001 9:00pm
  • Business

By Kathy Day

Herald Writer

Snohomish County PUD’s commercial and industrial customers are turning the tables on the utility, offering ideas on what should be done to help solve the energy crunch.

It’s because they want to find a way out of the high prices they’re paying, but also because PUD officials have asked for help. And some feel they have exhausted their conservation efforts and must find other ways to hold energy costs down.

For Diane Sims, owner of Lombardi’s Cucina and two other restaurants, the energy crunch has had a major impact that has been felt most at the Everett location — the only one she owns in PUD territory.

"Our electricity costs are 30 percent higher despite our conservation efforts," she said, adding that natural gas is costing 35 percent more.

Sims has been vocal about her concerns, speaking when Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner William Massey came to Everett in April, and more recently when Sen. Maria Cantwell attended a field hearing on the energy crisis.

"There are a number of things we can all do, and conservation’s a strong piece of that," Sims said. "but we need government to ensure a consistent and appropriately priced supply of energy."

On top of that, she said she believes tax incentives for energy efficient equipment would be more effective than small business loans.

Besides doing everything she can with systems that use power, she’s also quit serving water automatically in her establishments — and it’s not totally because of water shortages. An 8-ounce glass of water actually costs the equivalent of a 16-ounce glass in energy terms, she said, because you have to manufacture the ice and heat the water to wash the glasses. "Making the ice is the one of the most expensive costs we have."

Business is off, she believes, because customers are saving money to pay utility bills instead of going out to eat. Although she’s doing her best to hold the line on prices, she’s had to inch them up slightly to help cover costs in the traditionally low-margin business.

But she said energy surcharges, which some hotels and restaurants in California have added, "are not an option."

Larger busineses are calling for help, too. At a recent commission meeting, Jim Davis of Fluke Corp. said the company, which makes test and measurement devices, spent about $1.3 million for 32 megawatt hours of power. So far this year, it has cut usage by 6 percent and has paid $600,000 more than budgeted.

"It doesn’t feel to us like we can significantly contribute to the 10 percent figure," he added, referring to the district’s response to a Bonneville Power Administration load reduction request. "We’re concerned about the incremental costs of operations."

In a letter to the commission, Fluke’s president, James Lico, called on the PUD to "do everything within your control to influence first the stabilization and then the reduction of these rate increases."

While warning that a "lack of stable power will eventually curtail our ability to grow our business, he urged the board to "support the development and implementation of additional power generation capacity for our region."

At the Everett Clinic, facility manager Dan Clark has put a lot of energy into making sure that managers at the clinic’s various satellites have all the information he can find. He’s worked with the PUD to develop an energy use index. By finding out how many kilowatts they use and dividing that by the square footage, the managers get a number for comparison purposes.

But even with reduced usage, the clinic’s electricity bills are 30 percent higher than a year ago, he added.

He said he’d appreciate more help from the PUD "to get our buildings more energy efficient."

Because he’s so involved in other issues regarding clinic facilities, "we don’t have time to focus on conservation. We’re operating with the same staffing, so getting it done is the hard part."

But, he added, the recent energy exposition the PUD sponsored was very useful. "The most interesting presentation was about how lighting and occupancy sensors were used to control lighting. It got us to think about things we can look at, and we don’t have to reinvent the wheel."

You can call Herald Writer Kathy Day at 425-339-3453

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