Business & Real Estate

SMUD’s commercial energy-savings programs have helped ‘thousands’ of regional businesses

Gary Kuwabara looks over the menu in May at Hot Italian under lights that have been recycled and repurposed from coffee tins.
Gary Kuwabara looks over the menu in May at Hot Italian under lights that have been recycled and repurposed from coffee tins. aseng@sacbee.com

Hot Italian’s checklist for opening in Sacramento in early 2009 included seasonal ingredients for its pizzas, an eye-catching collection of Italian wines … and a speed-dial relationship with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

That relationship resulted in the midtown eatery becoming the Sacramento region’s first restaurant to receive Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED cited Hot Italian’s incorporation of energy-efficient equipment and lighting and use of materials that could be recycled, reducing landfill waste.

SMUD calls Hot Italian one of its “success stories,” but adds that its commercial energy-efficiency programs have helped thousands of businesses in the region save money on energy costs.

“From our viewpoint, sure, we’re looking to save energy. But for businesses, the more efficiency they have, the greater the likelihood that they’ll continue in business,” said Jim Parks, energy research and development program manager for SMUD.

20 percentSMUD’s estimate of potential energy bill savings for small- and medium-size businesses participating in the Sacramento utility’s Complete Energy Solutions program

Parks has seen energy-efficiency technology evolve dramatically over 25 years, to the point where SMUD now offers a long list of cost-saving energy options to businesses ranging from mom-and-pop stores to large industrial enterprises.

Where energy-saving programs for businesses were once an attitude – signs urging employees to turn off lights or office equipment before going home at night – it’s now a blizzard of tangible products. The extensive menu includes automatic power shut-off devices, solar systems, cool roofs, computerized climate control/lighting systems, energy-efficient appliances, plug load sensors and LED lighting.

SMUD’s energy-saving programs go by various names, including Energy Management Solutions, Complete Energy Solutions and PowerDirect. Beneficiaries of SMUD energy audits include Diamond Growers, Whole Foods and VSP Global.

Smaller firms also have benefited. Under the Complete Energy Solutions program geared to small- and medium-size businesses, SMUD sends an expert to do a free, comprehensive energy assessment of lighting, refrigeration, heating, ventilation, air conditioning and other systems. A customized report with recommended efficiency improvements and estimated cost savings is provided.

SMUD offers various rebates and financial incentives and will help firms find contractors to install energy-efficient equipment. The utility says the program can save businesses up to 20 percent on their energy bills and said most projects pay for themselves in one to two years.

Hot Italian did not need convincing. Co-founder and Creative Director Andrea Lepore was committed to creating an environmentally friendly establishment – even repurposing coffee cans to hold LED lights over the bar and installing parking for 32 bicycles – and worked closely with SMUD’s Savings By Design team before Hot Italian’s 2009 opening in about 5,800 square feet of what was once a fireplace shop.

“They looked at everything and were very proactive,” Lepore said. “It made the process easier, because there were so many moving parts. But they would always find solutions.”

The short list of energy-saving features at Hot Italian includes Energy Star appliances (refrigerators, TVs, freezers, ice makers and dishwashers); a sunlight-reflecting, heat-radiating “cool roof”; low-flow water faucets and toilets; solar thermal water heating, LED track lighting and nearly 20 “Solatubes,” aluminum-wrapped cylinders that concentrate the sun’s rays to the interior space. The restrooms at Hot Italian are fully lit via Solatubes in daytime, with no electrical power used.

Bottom line: Hot Italian’s energy bills are about 25 percent to 30 percent lower than those of a traditional restaurant of similar size.

“It makes a huge difference to a business. It’s a major cost consideration,” Lepore said. Lepore characterized the extra cost as minimal, and that Hot Italian made its money back in its first few years of operation.

“LED lights, for example, are more expensive than halogens, but they’re 17 times more efficient, so it comes back quickly. And most of everything else really didn’t make that big of a (cost) difference,” she said.

Steve Oliver, a mechanical engineer and an energy-efficiency program manager for SMUD, explained that the utility’s commercial energy-efficiency programs evolved from a low point in SMUD’s history, the 1989 voter referendum that prompted the closure of the Rancho Seco nuclear power plant in Sacramento County.

“That was the beginning of an effort to control load growth and to offset the loss of power generation,” Oliver said. “… Now, there’s a jobs impact that we like to support. And reducing overhead, that’s a priority for businesses.”

One of the local industrial-size operations helped by SMUD is Tri Tool Inc., the Rancho Cordova-based designer and manufacturer of portable machine tools for oil pipelines and other heavy-duty industries. At Tri Tool’s cavernous, 139,000-square-foot plant along Sunrise Boulevard, scores of workers grind, polish, inspect and ready parts and heavy machinery that will be shipped to customers worldwide. It’s a power-consuming process.

Joel Walton, Tri Tool’s facility manager, said the company began working with SMUD in 2007, installing energy-efficient lighting and lighting controls. He said lighting improvements in the plant’s parking lot alone were “definitely a major savings achievement. … There’s a whole psychology of lighting. It worked out real well for us.”

Walton said energy-efficient cooling, heating and humidity systems also proved to be a major plus: “I’m going to say that we probably reduced (energy costs) by 25 percent overall. It all adds up over time.”

SMUD also has worked with RagingWire Data Centers, believed to be the utility’s largest customer, on energy-efficient power, cooling and control systems. Improvements at 500,000 square feet of RagingWire space in Natomas include motion-activated lighting systems, LED lighting, water chillers, and variable-speed fans and pumps.

In March, RagingWire earned the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star certification for its Sacramento facility and its 150,000-square-foot facility in Ashburn, Va. Certification signifies that the data centers perform in the top 25 percent of similar facilities nationwide for energy efficiency and meet efficiency performance standards set by the EPA.

Alex Naderi, senior director of research and development engineering for RagingWire, called SMUD “a very good partner, productive and helpful, because our energy cost is considerable. They have helped us step by step..”

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