When businesses set out to cut their energy costs, they generally focus
on one project at a time.
A pilot program in Eastern Montana is attempting to make managing energy costs a systematic part of company business planning, on par with other priorities like safety training.
The program is a joint effort of the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance of Portland, Ore., and NorthWestern Energy. NEAA conducted the first programs in cities in Washington and Oregon, then turned to Montana.
"We wanted to see if this would work in rural settings and it has exceeded our expectations," said Jeff Harris, director of emerging technologies for NEEA.
Energy savings are a manageable and controllable cost, said NorthWestern spokeswoman Deb Martin Young.
Four Eastern Montana organizations -- Wood's Powr-Grip in Laurel, Cereal Foods Processors in Billings and Great Falls, Pasta Montana in Great Falls and the city of Billings -- spent the past year improving their energy efficiency.
On Tuesday, they shared what they learned during a meeting at the Yellowstone Art Museum.
Cereal Food Processors of Billings is focusing on saving money by metering the multiple air compressors used in milling flour and by upgrading its lighting, which is on a separate meter.
"Both plants have learned a lot," said Dave Hodges, who manages Cereal Food's plants in Billings and Great Falls. "Once we change to LED lights, we'll be able to tell how much we've saved."
Chief executive Bryan Wood said Wood's Powr-Grip spends about 10 to 15 percent of its yearly budget on energy used to make vacuum grips to handle glass. That's about half to one-fifth of what larger companies in this study spend, he said.
The yearlong program showed that the company's existing common-sense approach to saving energy works, Wood said, but more can be done when NEAA ideas are implemented next year.
"We have a system in place where we can truly systematically introduce improvements and not just hap hazardously throw money at things," he said.
The city of Billings spends the most of its energy budget on lighting, said facilities manager Saree Couture. The second-largest energy expense is for maintenance, including the water plant, the waste water plant and all the pumping stations.
The city has its lights largely on auto control, so one of the next steps is training employees to help out with energy savings, she said, including the simplest of tasks: turning off office lights.
"People can override any good system," Couture said.
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