HECO rebate programs encourage energy savings
By urging energy conservation, the utility has saved businesses and homeowners millions
STORY SUMMARY »
In just more than a decade, Hawaii saved itself a power plant.
The 100 megawatts the state has cut through Hawaiian Electric Co.'s home and business rebate programs since 1996 nearly equal the power of the planned Campbell Industrial Park plant.
That also adds up to a lot of money saved by local businesses and organizations on installation and energy costs.
Punahou School estimates it could save a million dollars a year under its program designed to cut in half its dependence on HECO by 2016.
More than 8,000 projects have been completed under the rebate program, and with newer, more efficient technologies coming online, energy conservation is becoming the norm, not the exception for Hawaii buildings.
BY THE NUMBERS
Hawaiian Electric's rebate program for businesses started in 1996.
53 megawatts: Business energy savings
682,000 barrels: Oil reduction
$24 million: Rebates awarded
8,000: Estimated number of projects
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DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Fifteen University of Hawaii students have formed a group called HUB, or Help Us Bridge, to help the school cut energy use. The group is removing 2,000 lights from Saunders Hall on campus, and in April will install a wind turbine on the roof, with long-term plans for an 18-kilowatt solar system. Above, some HUB members gathered in a hallway around a turbine being tested.
The colors at Bougainville Flooring's showroom are looking a little brighter these days.
And it's saving the company a bundle.
When tripling the store's size three years ago, President David Arita scrapped the building's old fluorescent lighting in favor of new energy-saving bulbs that earned him thousands of dollars in rebates under Hawaiian Electric Co.'s EnergySolutions for Business program.
Total rebates for upgrades to lighting and air conditioning: $7,112.
"It really makes a big difference from a customer-selection process," said Arita, who earned HECO's small business energy efficiency award in 2006. "The electricity costs are going up and up and up -- anything to save energy is something that we are always interested in doing."
Bougainville is one of hundreds of businesses in Hawaii to take advantage of the program, which has handed out $24 million in rebates since starting in 1996, with an estimated $3.5 million paid out last year. Upgrades to everything ranging from lighting to ultraviolet water-treatment systems totaling more than 8,000 projects has saved more than 53 megawatts and the equivalent energy supplied by 682,000 barrels of oil.
When taking into account HECO's EnergyScout home rebate energy program, 100 megawatts have been cut statewide, saving just less than the estimated output of the planned 110-megawatt commercial biofuel plant at Campbell Industrial Park.
"We consider these programs to be an alternative resource," said Keith Block, director of HECO's customer efficiency programs division. "Generally speaking, demand for electricity increases over time. Back in the '90s and late '80s, Hawaiian Electric started looking at an alternative to that by helping our customers to be more efficient."
Businesses usually have a two-year payback on a lighting retrofit, the most popular use of the rebate program, followed by efficient air-cooling systems, Block said. In recent years, the program's offerings have expanded to include newer technologies, such as high output fluorescent lighting. Block said in the past decade he's seen features such as solar-water heating skyrocket in popularity.
"That kind of transition over time is really easy for us in the business to see," he said. "There's been so much awareness because of the high cost of oil. You tell them, 'Change your lights and you get a 50 percent return on investment,' and their eyes light up."
This month, the Hawaii chapter of the Building Owners and Managers Association, in partnership with Hawaiian Electric, will debut the first-ever handbook geared toward providing commercial building owners with a road map to saving energy.
"Building managers in many cases don't have all the knowledge necessary in order to come up with a plan to have a green building, or in particular, energy conservation," said Horizon Properties owner Dennis Gillum, who served as president of the organization last year. "There are so many areas of concern, it's difficult to have the knowledge in all of it."
Gillum said most of the organization's 135 local members have taken advantage of the rebate program, including him. He replaced the old magnetic lighting in his 615 Piikoi Street building more than 10 years ago with T8 fluorescent lighting, cutting the number of lights -- and his costs -- by half.
"It's something building managers are aware of and are taking into consideration with building modifications," he said. "It's been a real benefit to the public and to the building industry as well."
At the University of Hawaii at Manoa, a group of 15 students is using the rebate money to help the school cut energy use by 30 percent in 2012 and in half by 2015. The university spends $1.5 million each month on electricity.
HUB, or Help Us Bridge, is removing 2,000 lights in Saunders Hall, the home of the College of Social Sciences. With a rebate of $5 a light, the group plans to use its $10,000 in rebate money to fund other energy-saving projects.
"We weren't given a budget so we didn't have any money to start with," said student sustainability coordinator Shanah Trevenna. "The rebates are great because you get them right away. We want to set the precedent for all energy-saving initiatives."
The group plans to cut energy use in the seven-story office building by nearly a third by the end of this year. In April, it will install a wind turbine on the roof, with long-term plans for an 18-kilowatt solar system.
Queen's Medical Center, one of the top 10 electricity users in the state, has won several HECO awards for its efforts for its installation of more than 20,000 energy-efficient fluorescent and 2,000 LED lights. That helps the 2.2-million-square-foot center save more than $400,000 a year in electric costs, which top a half-million dollars each month.
"What I did is I used the money I got from the rebate to use for the energy savings," said facilities manager Mike Kim Seu. "The main thing in big companies is that we don't have money to spend. Once I found this, it was like a wheel going downhill -- it picked up momentum."
The hospital also has installed motion-sensitive sensors in rooms and stairwells that shut off unused lighting, as well as a temperature monitor that reduces the cost of air conditioning.
Punahou School cuts air-conditioning costs by a quarter by running its energy-efficient chillers at off-peak hours, so ice is produced at night and melted during the day. A lighting retrofit in the early 1990s paid for itself within a year and a half, said Randy Overton, director of the physical plant.
"From the board's perspective, it's pretty much a slam dunk," he said.
Under a program designed to reduce the school's dependence on HECO in half by 2016 with renewable energy and natural ventilation, Overton said the school could save a million dollars a year.
"It's about doing the right thing," he said. "Fortunately through the years, more people have gotten on the bandwagon."