Published December 14th, 2016
The BEST Way for Local Businesses to Go Green
By Sora O'Doherty
Orinda is turning green, not just for the holidays but all year long, by availing itself of programs designed to lower utility costs and greenhouse gasses at its businesses.
A new California law, SB 32, requires cities to reduce their greenhouse gasses. Gov.Brown signed SB 32 in September, the landmark energy and climate change legislation that requires California to reduce emissions to well below 1990 levels.
Business are trying to reduce their costs and so are looking at increasing energy efficiency. Until recently, however, cities were unaware that businesses within their borders were helping them meet their goals, and businesses were unaware that their efforts are helping the cities.
According to Lynda Deschambault, former Moraga mayor and executive director of Contra Costa County Climate Leaders (4CL), businesses are "low hanging fruit" for cities trying to improve their numbers.
In an effort to bring together businesses and city governments, 4CL held a workshop recently on Cities and Businesses: Working Together to Meet SB 32 and Community-wide Climate Action Plan Goals. One of the presenters at that workshop was Stephen Wolcott, program manager for sustainable energy use at DNV-GL, an Oakland-based firm. He explained about the Business Energy Services Team (BEST) program offered to small- and medium-sized businesses located in select cities in the East Bay area. The primary focus of this program is to help businesses reduce their electricity cost by increasing their facility's energy efficiency. The BEST program promotes the installation and use of cost-effective, high-efficiency lighting, refrigeration and customized technologies through program incentives.
There are many programs aimed at big business, but not so many that try to help small businesses, like mom and pop shops with under $1 million profits annually that consume under 200 peak kilowatt hours. That's the majority of Orinda businesses.
Wolcott has been working with Lafayette, Orinda and Moraga to help businesses that have fewer than 10 employees, or whose owners are perhaps non-English speakers, to access energy efficient incentive programs. He notes that there has been a significant uptick in local businesses availing themselves of improvements that may lower their energy consumption while at the same time creating a more pleasant environment for both customers and employees. The Lafayette Chamber of Commerce has been particularly active, and Orinda is also showing increased interest, he says. Orinda has a high number of businesses making use of BEST, according to Jency James, senior consultant for 4CL.
There is a pool of money made available by PG&E, mandated by the California Public Utilities Commission, to be used to provide incentives for California businesses to become more energy efficient. Businesses who undertake improvements may find that between 20 and 100 percent of their costs can be offset. BEST is one of the many rebate programs available.
The program has many positive benefits, according to Wolcott. The contractors working on energy efficient installations are local businesses serving their own communities. Cities have to achieve energy goals to increase energy efficiency and reduce carbon dioxide emissions. This proves to be good for the environment without giving anything up, so it is a win-win situation.
For example, a gas station could lower its energy costs by 70 percent by switching to more efficient refrigeration and LED lighting. Since DNV-GL began providing services to this community in 2002, their work has saved on 100 million kilowatt hours.
Wolcott explained that some businesses are hard to reach with energy efficient solutions, which is why DNV-GL is working with PG&E and municipalities in Contra Costa and Alameda Counties to reach small businesses that might not otherwise be aware of the opportunities open to them.
The programs for 2016 have concluded, but in late January, small businesses can apply for no-cost audits where an auditor will come to the business and assess what the business is capable of doing and advise what it should do. DNV-GL works with nonprofit partners including Sustainable Contra Costa County. If the work required for the energy efficient installation is over $5,000, there is a program where the work can be financed by a 0 percent loan from PG&E which is then repaid from the energy savings per month. Project costs range from $75 to $60,000; most are between $1,500 and $10,000.

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