Commentary - March 27th, 2014
2:35 pm
Fri March 28, 2014

Lewis and Clark Counties Sustainability projects: Saving energy and money

Good evening, my name is Elisa Prescott and I am the Sustainability Coordinator for Lewis and Clark County in Helena.

Over the last few years, Lewis and Clark County has been working hard to encourage, promote, and support resource efficiency, energy conservation, and economic savings throughout our community.

We recently finished a $1.4 million dollar project upgrading all of our 30 county facilities – from the Augusta jail to the Myrna Loy Center with more efficient lighting, heating and cooling systems. The county was able to self-finance the improvements and the conservative estimate for payback is 15 years. Early indications already show a reduction in utility usage.

In 2010, the county established the Lewis & Clark County Green Team, which consists of County employees who are committed to the principles of financial and environmental sustainability within County operations.

As a group, the Green Team has been successful in advocating change within Lewis & Clark County government operations. Successful projects include, installing recycling bins in six county buildings, help in organizing the annual walk/ bike to work month, creating a preferred purchasing policy, which has saved the county over $700 in just 4 months by purchasing bulk recycled paper. The Green Team also sponsored a winter coat drive for Americas Recycles day- collecting 300 coats, and instituted a battery recycling program in 5 county buildings.

The Green team will also be hosting an Earth Day Event at the Holter museum on April 22.

The Green Team, which meets monthly, acts as a resource for county employees to be more conscious about their everyday decisions, from what they throw away to how they commute to work.

In addition to our efforts within our county walls, we developed the Tri-County Small Business Efficiency Program and the Green Business Program, both of which work with our community to be more energy efficient and reduce energy costs.

In 2010, we received a $305,000 EPA Climate Showcase Communities grant. EPA funded our Tri-County Small Business Efficiency Program, which was to help small businesses in three counties, Lewis and Clark, Broadwater and Jefferson to complete energy upgrades.

There are over 30 million small businesses in the United States who collectively spend more than 60 billion dollars on heating, cooling, and lighting their work places every year. These businesses could see between a ten to thirty percent reduction in these costs by simply modifying behaviors and investing in energy upgrades.

There are a number of definitions for small businesses. For our energy program we used NorthWestern Energy’s definition of a small business. Not surprisingly, they use energy to determine the definition of a small business. If a business has an average peak demand of 300 kilowatts or less they qualify to participate in NWE’s E Plus program and our program. There are approximately 3,000 small businesses in the tri-county area.

The first step in the program was for the business to have an energy audit completed, and then implement recommendations outlined in the audit that could be done to reduce their energy consumption. We paid up to $1,500 toward these upgrades.

The businesses contributed a portion of the money towards the upgrades and NWE provided rebates for some of the upgrades. That is why a $300,000 investment actually equated to over $500,000 being invested in energy upgrades.

As of the end of 2013, we have had 153 businesses participate in the Tri-county Small Business Efficiency Program. So far, 750,000 kilowatt hours/year has been saved and cumulatively these businesses are saving over $100,000 per year with 700 tons of greenhouse gasses not being produced.

As I mentioned, even without additional outside funding, businesses can see a 10-30% reduction in their utility costs by making behavioral changes and completing minor energy upgrades.

Spurred from the Tri-county Small Business Efficiency Program, last year we started the Green Business Program, which is a free certification program that recognizes businesses for their resource efficiency efforts. Businesses who participate have access to resources to help increase efficiency, cut costs and decrease their environmental impact. 

To become certified a business must complete three core requirements, including having an energy audit completed, writing and adopting an environmental policy statement and completing a waste assessment form.

They must then complete three additional actions from a broad range of categories, from water conservation to waste reduction.

To date, we have 30 businesses that are green certified.

In Montana, business owners are some of the strongest leaders in their communities — by implementing greener practices, sharing their success stories with others, and engaging their customers and employees, green businesses can affect positive financial and environmental change.

Lewis and Clark County is committed to creating a healthy and sustainable future and working with our community to save both money and energy. To learn more about Lewis and Clark County’s sustainability initiatives visits the Lewis and Clark county sustainability web page.

From Helena, I’m Elisa Prescott for the Alternative Energy Resources Organization.  Celebrating our 40th year, AERO is a grassroots membership organization that's been building communities by linking people with sustainable agriculture and energy solutions. If you'd like to get involved, give us a call at (406) 443-7272.