Efficiency program adds business focus | VailDaily.com

Efficiency program adds business focus

While changing to LED lights is a big part of efficiency plans for homes and businesses, the Eagle County Energy Smart program can also arrange "home energy audits" that determine how much cold air is getting into a home or shop.
Special to the Daily |

AVON ­— Eagle County’s Energy Smart program has evolved significantly since it was unveiled in 2010. Now, the program seems to be on its most solid ground yet and is seeking bigger bangs for its bucks.

Energy Smart started in 2009, when county voters approved a plan to allow homeowners to repay loans for energy-efficiency projects through additional charges on their property tax bills. But that idea was ultimately torpedoed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the nation’s largest mortgage repurchasers, because of the way the efficiency loans could complicate mortgages.

Since then, Energy Smart has focused on helping homeowners and businesses make their buildings more efficient, using a combination of state funds and federal sources, as well as available rebates from local utility companies and Eagle County’s “Eco Build” program. Recently, though, there’s been an even bigger focus on businesses, since just one business can save a bunch of electricity or natural gas.

The program is also settling into new, more-visible digs at the Walking Mountains Natural Science School.

For a while last year, program manager John-Ryan Lockman was a little like the Maytag repairman, working alone in an office at Miller Ranch in Edwards. Even doing everything himself, Lockman was able to help a number of residents and businesses with projects ranging from better interior lights to helping seal buildings more tightly against winter’s chill.

More bustle, more action

These days, Lockman has a bit of help. Relocating to the increasingly-bustling Walking Mountains facility has more people walking through the doors — albeit usually in groups of school kids. There’s also someone around to answer the phone while Lockman is doing other work.

The Energy Smart program has always had a focus on energy savings, focusing mostly on heating and lighting. But even since the program started, there have been some big changes in the lighting efficiency business.

The most common bulb for energy efficiency just a few years ago was the compact fluorescent, a squiggly thing that didn’t draw much energy — at least compared to comparable incandescent bulbs — but was roundly criticized for the quality of its light. People also soon learned that the bulbs had to be properly — and inconveniently — disposed of, since they contained mercury.

Today, the big thing in energy-efficient lighting is the light-emitting diode, or LED. Those bulbs are also very efficient — the equivalent of a 65-watt incandescent burns just 11.5 watts. The new bulbs can also be hooked to dimmer switches, unlike fluorescents, and come in a variety of “colors” to suit customers’ internal lighting preferences.

Lockman made a pitch for LEDs to Russell White, the controller at Moe’s Original BBQ, to encourage his bosses to make the switch. White said he was impressed with the light quality of the bulbs, as well as the ability to put the bulbs on dimmers.

White did some of his own research about bulb life and energy use and found that, eventually, the cost of the bulbs worked out on the balance sheet.

A standard 65-watt bulb costs about $2.50, White said. An equivalent LED is far more expensive, about $20. But, White said, the average life expectancy of a standard bulb is about 2,000 hours, compared to roughly 25,000 hours for an LED. Add in the energy cost savings — remember that each equivalent LED bulb pulls less than 20 percent of the power that a 65-watt bulb does — and the numbers add up quickly.

Impressive savings

The energy saved so far is impressive. Lockman said the total for projects done in the past year alone is about 400,000 kilowatt-hours per year. An average-sized home will use about 1,000 kilowatt-hours a month, Lockman said. A town of Vail project to convert streetlights to LEDs could save nearly 1 million kilowatt-hours per year.

Lockman said the cost of LED bulbs comes down even more thanks to a program run through Holy Cross Energy, which provides electricity to most of the valley. The utility will rebate half the cost of LED bulbs to homeowners — up to 20 bulbs — on their electricity bills, and it will rebate businesses 50 percent of a project that costs $2,000 or less. Holy Cross customers also pay an $8 monthly fee for conservation programs on their bills, so grabbing the rebates is like getting some of your own money back, Lockman said.

Other rebates are available through Holy Cross and Source Gas, which provides natural gas to most of the valley.

Lockman said Energy Smart can set up evaluations and manage the rebates for both homeowners and businesses.

Beyond just being in a more active place, Lockman said there are other advantages to having the Energy Smart program at Walking Mountains. The town of Vail and the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability are currently running an “Actively Green by 2015” program for valley businesses in advance of the 2015 World Alpine Ski Championships.

“There’s a great match between those programs,” Lockman said.

Kim Langmaid, the director of the Alliance, said Walking Mountains is bringing together many of the valley’s sustainability programs.

“It’s becoming a real resource center,” Langmaid said. “From education to action, and from efficiency to recycling, it’s here.”

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