As advances in technology sweep through the workplace and transform the way businesses operate, conducting an energy audit about once every five years is a smart measure for managing energy costs, according to Erick Shambarger, deputy director of the City of Milwaukee’s Office of Environmental Sustainability.
What that audit looks like can vary widely among businesses, depending upon the kinds of buildings they occupy, the industries they belong to and the scales of their operations, said Shambarger, who heads the Milwaukee Energy Efficiency (Me2) Program. The federally-funded program provides support and resources to both businesses and homeowners looking to optimize their property’s energy efficiency.
Similarly, Focus on Energy, which is Wisconsin utilities’ statewide energy efficiency and renewable resource program, works with businesses and residents to spur cost savings through energy efficiency and renewable energy.
While neither Me2 nor Focus on Energy actually offers auditing services, the programs point energy-conscious businesses in the direction of third-party auditors, who are registered trade allies, and then offer financing options and financial incentives for energy-based projects.
Although energy audits are not mandated by the City of Milwaukee or by the state, Shambarger recommends audits as one of the first steps in controlling significant energy costs.
“It just makes smart business sense to try to reduce your costs, and if you’re going to reduce your costs you may as well focus on energy,” Shambarger said, adding that energy does not boost the value of an enterprise. It absorbs funds each month.
By completing a Focus on Energy Level 1 Energy Audit, which comes with a fee determined by the contractor, businesses can evaluate how their building is performing compared with others in the marketplace, look at what other building assessments might be necessary, calculate the range of energy and dollars savings, and learn about the kinds of financial incentives they may be eligible for from Focus on Energy.
Through an initial phone conversation with Focus on Energy, business executives are directed to the energy savings program that best caters to their needs. Those programs include a Small Business Program that serves Wisconsin businesses using less than 100 kilowatts of electricity each month and a Large Energy Users Program that works with businesses using more than 1,000 kilowatts per month.
The perks within each program range from lighting assessments and installation of energy-efficient lighting to financial incentives for energy-friendly equipment installations.
The Small Business Program, which earlier this year surpassed 10,000 business participants, offers participating enterprises free audits to pinpoint energy-saving possibilities. From there, businesses can select one of three installation, service and finance packages that prepare their facilities to run off energy-saving equipment
Small businesses’ energy concerns are generally rooted in lighting issues, according to Shambarger and Sarah Platt, director of external communications for Focus on Energy.
On top of lighting, midsized businesses and large industrial companies must also take into consideration the energy used in processes, such as heating and cooling water, and the energy required by equipment.
In addition to Focus on Energy benefits, large manufacturers in Milwaukee can tap into technical support from the Milwaukee Economy, Energy, & Environment (ME3) Program to identify energy-saving and natural resource saving opportunities in their facilities.
These kinds of energy programs promote the “long-term economic health of our city,” Shambarger said, while also empowering businesses to invest in their building stock rather than continuously throw money out the door.
“We want to basically enable businesses to run their buildings and processes more efficiently so that they’ll have more money to invest in the business,” Platt said.
And while energy audits are not enforced by the city or state, Milwaukee is setting an example for other cities by taking the pledge behind the Better Buildings Challenge, a U.S. Department of Energy program pushing leaders of all industries to cut their energy usage by 20 percent by the year 2020.
“I urge building owners to join the Better Buildings Challenge and reduce their energy use 20 percent by the year 2020,” Mayor Tom Barrett said. “(The) City of Milwaukee is working toward this goal in our own buildings, and the city provides tools to make it affordable for building owners to invest in their own energy saving improvements, too.”