New partnership brings energy and cost savings to businesses in rural Oregon

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By Hannah Mullin  C+C  |  ALL ABOUT THE GOOD 

There’s a new program helping small businesses in rural, southern Oregon save money and prepare for the future. 

With fewer than 2,500 residents, the town of Lakeview is even more remote than most rural communities, meaning there are fewer contractors available to help when businesses need to improve older or inefficient buildings and spaces.

But a local nonprofit, Lake County Resources Initiative, is taking a new approach to help businesses overcome these barriers, starting with upgrading lighting—which government statistics show is one of the highest energy costs for businesses. 

Lake County Resources Initiative, which works to improve the area’s economy and environment, is working with Energy Trust of Oregon, a nonprofit organization that makes it easier and more affordable for people to save energy and generate their own clean power. By bringing in contractors from outside of Lakeview, providing technical assistance, and connecting businesses to cash incentives, this partnership is helping businesses save energy, time and money by upgrading to highly efficient LED lighting. 

“In a rural area like this with harsh weather, running a business can be challenging,” said Nick Johnson, executive director of Lake County Resources Initiative. “But thanks to many partners, we’ve been able to lessen some of the burden by helping these businesses cut their energy costs.”

In less than a year, 19 Lakeview businesses have taken advantage of the program – an achievement that leaders say is making the community stronger. One of the participants, the Lakeview Community Partnership, is a nonprofit working to restore the historic Alger Theatre and its neighboring annex building.

“The Historic Alger Theater is the town of Lakeview’s crown jewel,” said Ginger Casto, executive director of the Lakeview Community Partnership. “After closing in 2014, it fell into disrepair and put a damper on the town’s image. With the support of Lake County Resources Initiative, we were able to afford to work with contractors to make significant lighting upgrades to the annex building next to the theater. Three months in and we’ve cut our electric bill in half.”

To make the lighting projects a reality, Lake County Resources Initiative conducted audits to identify savings opportunities and supplied reduced-cost tubular LEDs with cash incentives from Energy Trust. The nonprofit also secured $5,000 in travel reimbursement from Energy Trust to cover the cost of contractor travel from neighboring communities, which was a significant financial barrier to making these projects profitable for contractors.

“This effort has a great, collaborative approach that is allowing us to connect contractors in and around Lake County to businesses and homeowners who likely haven’t had the opportunity to make energy upgrades or add renewable energy before,” said Johnson. “Individually, these projects may seem small but together this type of work is what will lead our region into a clean energy future.”  

Energy Trust hopes this partnership can serve as a model to bring energy efficiency to more rural Oregon communities. Reducing energy use and costs has never been more important with research showing rural cities and towns can pay as much as 40% more on energy bills than more urban areas.

“Having a trusted community partner was key to our success,” said Energy Trust Southern Oregon Outreach Manager Karen Chase. “Collaboration with nonprofits and trade ally contractors is a model we can apply to support other rural communities.”

With lower energy bills and new energy-efficiency solutions, Lakeview businesses are already looking toward the future.

“We’re very happy with the result of this work. It’s improved the accessibility of the annex building,” said Casto. “As we continue our renovations, we’re excited to see other downtown businesses take advantage of these opportunities as well.”

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