Business

Companies working to conserve energy

"With electricity in short supply along the West Coast and natural gas prices rising sharply this month, many businesses and homeowners in Federal Way are searching for ways to cut their bills. Puget Sound Energy, which serves most of Federal Way, has plans to help, and local businesses are doing their part, as well. PSE has begun a new Personal Energy Management program that will show individual commercial and residential customers in King, Pierce, Snohomish and Thurston counties exactly how much energy they are using at peak demand times with the hope that people will change their habits and shift energy use to off-peak times. If energy use can be cut during peak times, it means PSE does not have to fire up natural gas turbines to generate excess electricity to meet the demand. Therefore, the cost to provide that energy is less, and the impact on the environment is reduced, as well, said PSE spokesman Denny Lenesgrav. We're trying to re-educate the public to not use energy in the peak periods - from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., and from 6 p.m. to about 8 p.m. - because it is very expensive, Lenesgrav said. We're trying to smooth out the demand to reduce system load.Electricity prices are not the problem, he said. Prices for PSE customers only rose 1.5 percent on Jan. 1, far less than the 30 percent to 50 percent hikes customers in Tacoma have experienced in recent months. The real problem is natural gas prices, he said. Since August, the price for natural gas supplied to residential customers has jumped 52.6 percent, while the price for commercial customers went up by 56.8 percent. The prices rose because the cost to PSE to buy the gas from the wholesale agent increased, Lenesgrav said. Using that gas to make electricity means the price to the residential and commercial consumer will go up again, and eventually the cost of electricity could go up, as well, he said. PSE's five-year agreement with the state Utilities and Transportation Commission to maintain price stability is up for review in 2002, meaning the company can ask for permission to charge more for electricity, Lenesgrav said. The company could also ask to charge higher fees for electricity used during peak demand times, he said.However, the hope is that can be avoided if customers start to see their energy use broken down to show when they are using the most and then initiate change to limit use during peak times, Lenesgrav said.Some companies and public institutions in Federal Way are already beginning to look for ways to conserve more than they do normally to help reduce the demand on the system and keep prices low. Capital One is urging all its employees to turn off lights, computers and turn down thermostats if they are leaving for the night and won't be back until the next morning. The company is also flying in a representative to meet with PSE this week to talk about letting the credit card company use its diesel generators for a few hours a night so it is not drawing on PSE's energy load. Normally Capital One would only use its generators in emergencies, said spokeswoman Debbie McGee. In addition, Capital One's new Internet call center that is being built on the Weyerhaeuser campus will include an energy efficient fluorescent lighting system. Its current production facility will be retrofitted with more energy efficient fluorescent bulbs soon after, she said. The company has not yet set a goal as to how much energy it is trying to conserve by implementing the new measures, she said.We have set up a team to look at how we can further conserve, McGee said. It is hard for us, however, because our facility must operate 24 hours a day to meet the needs of our customers. We are at a point where we are conserving what we can without jeopardizing customer service or the safety and health of our employees.SeaTac Mall general manager Bob Fliday said he is doing what he can to cut energy use in the hopes that prices will stay at or near current levels. Each night the mall turns out as many lights as possible in the interior, but several are still needed so cleaning crews can do their job, Fliday said. Air conditioning units on the roof have, however, been adjusted so that the system only provides heat when necessary, instead of regulating temperature with bursts of warm and cool air. Fliday said he is also looking into turning off some parking lot lights after the mall closes for the night, but the system is wired so that whole banks of lights must be turned off at once, leaving large areas of the lot dark. We have some restaurants and businesses that stay open a little later in the front of the mall, so that may not be possible, he said. But we are considering it for the back part of the mall.Individual tenants have control of the lights in their stores, so the mall cannot force those businesses to turn the lights off at night, he said. But if higher electricity bills start rolling in, Fliday said he expects many companies will start turning off the juice quickly. In the Federal Way school district, Mike Carlisle, manager of maintenance services, issued a notice to all staff this week requiring thermostats to be set no higher than 68 degrees and mandating lights and computers be turned off if not used for 15 minutes. Space heaters are not allowed in the portable classrooms either. The newest price increases for natural gas would cost the district about $200,000 extra if no cutbacks were made, Carlisle said. Now, the district's utility budget, which includes natural gas, electricity, water, sewer and garbage services, is about $2.23 million a year. Electricity is about $1.4 million of that, with the next largest chunk being natural gas, he said. This current energy crunch is a good opportunity for us to increase our ongoing resource conservation effort, Carlisle said. We tell all the staff that if the price increases go through, and we don't conserve, that's $200,000 that doesn't go into the classrooms.Under an agreement with PSE, the district also cuts power to schools between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. when demand for electricity is especially high, he said. If the power doesn't go out, the district can be fined $1,000. Carlisle said that happened last month with Totem Junior High School. PSE told the district to douse the lights, and the district was late in meeting the 5 p.m. deadline so the fine was levied. The district is currently asking PSE to reconsider the fine, as the district is already facing higher energy charges just to operate normally. To make sure the district doesn't have the problem again, the district's resource conservation manager, Ed Novak, patrols for offenders on nights and weekends. He said he doesn't find many people complaining about having to turn out lights or turn down the thermostat. There's nothing like this current energy crisis to get people's attention, he said. The district is not yet curtailing after school activities, or community use of the buildings. But if a small group of people are using only a part of a large room, the district will not turn on all the lights in the room, he said. Novak said he does not have exact data on how many kilowatt hours the district is saving by implementing the conservation measures, but he is sure it is making an impact. He expects that the district will save about 15 percent on its energy bills this year. "

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