Strategic Energy Management gives businesses the power to cut operating costs

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By Susan Jowaiszas, Energy Trust of Oregon

Four years ago, Medford School District enrolled in Strategic Energy Management (SEM) — an Energy Trust of Oregon offering that helps organizations identify no- or low-cost operations and maintenance improvements that deliver significant bill savings and provides training on developing comprehensive energy management practices. Today, the district has slashed total annual operating costs through simple actions like making sure refrigerators are unplugged when schools shut down for the summer.

The district is not alone. In the past year, Umpqua Community College, Oregon Air National Guard Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the City of Talent and Adapt also participated in SEM, reducing their annual energy costs by thousands of dollars. Energy Trust services and cash incentives are available for customers served by Portland General Electric, Pacific Power, NW Natural, Cascade Natural Gas and Avista.

SEM, which is provided at no cost to eligible customers, brings together a cohort of area organizations that meet regularly for workshops over the course of a year. Led by Energy Trust technical experts, participants receive training and tools, share information with each other on strategies, develop long-term skills to find and eliminate energy waste and receive cash incentives based on documented savings.

“SEM offers something for everyone, whether you’ve been at it for a while or just getting started like we are,” said Jerry O’Sullivan, director of operations, Adapt, which has primary care and behavioral health facilities in three Southern Oregon counties. “It helps you find the low-hanging fruit that offers the biggest savings for the least cost.” Before SEM, Adapt was thinking of investing in capital energy projects, such as solar and replacement windows, for its headquarters in Roseburg. SEM changed their focus. “It’s fairly easy to trim annual energy use by 5 to 10 percent by taking steps like removing lamps in areas that are over-lit,” said O’Sullivan. “During SEM, we found offices with light levels on par with an operating room!”

Establishing an energy team and an energy
SE participants acquire new skills throughout their engagement year by participating in workshops with their peers and having regular check-ins with their SEM coaches, often resulting in a bit of “homework.” They learn how to establish an energy team with representatives from throughout their organization. These teams meet monthly to discuss and implement strategies identified during their SEM engagement. An energy champion coordinates the team’s efforts and tracks progress with support from Energy Trust.

The City of Talent’s energy team includes a representative from each city building. Oregon Air National Guard did the same — adding energy to the formal duties of those responsible for each building on the base.

Each organization also establishes an energysavings goal. Most organizations, like the City of Talent, start with 5-percent savings. “We hit our goal in the first year, and expect to repeat that in 2019,” said Sandra Spelliscy, Talent city manager.

Going on a treasure hunt
Early in the process, Energy Trust experts meet with participants at their facility to do a Building Opportunity Assessment — a treasure hunt that looks for energy waste. They come away with a list of action items to address.

“Walking through our production facility in Talent, where we build sets and store costumes, was a big eye opener,” said Ted DeLong, general manager, Oregon Shakespeare Festival. “We found thermostats that weren’t set properly, and the settings on outdoor lights weren’t adjusted for when it gets dark. Our building is fairly new, but we still came away with a long list of improvements that deliver savings.”

Through SEM, Adapt discovered that comfort complaints at its headquarters weren’t about temperature at all. “The airflow was higher than necessary, causing occupants to feel cold,” said O’Sullivan. The solution? Adapt simply ramped down the air handlers.

When Medford School District conducted its first treasure hunt back in 2015, the energy team discovered unnecessary plug loads left on during the summer — everything from computers to mini-fridges to cellphone chargers. As a result, the district expanded its summer shutdown procedures to make sure faculty members “pull the plugs” before they turn in their building keys. Implementing those procedures saved the district about $50,000 in annual energy costs the first year alone.

“We’re still perfecting our summer shutdown and finding new savings even in our fourth year of SEM,” said Ron Havniear, facilities manager, Medford School District. “We keep getting better at it.”

Monitoring and reporting on progress
SEM provides participants with tools and training that allow them to track energy use over time, with adjustments built in for weather, occupancy and other variables.

“The Performance Tracking tool we use is a big help to monitor not only the physical changes to our facilities but also those intangibles that have an effect on energy usage” said Jess Miller, director of facilities and security, Umpqua Community College. “They quantify our progress and highlight the value of the program to decision makers, faculty and students. And if there’s an unexplained increase in energy use, we can investigate and remedy it immediately. SEM really works for our campus. Last year we realized an 8% savings on our energy costs. That was a $48,000 savings we were able to transfer to our general fund.”

Keeping an eye open for capital projects
It’s not uncommon for SEM participants to uncover the opportunity for energy-saving capital projects.

“SEM helped us see how much our inefficient 20- year-old chiller was costing us,” said Senior Master Sergeant Ruel Gadbury, Oregon Air National Guard. “We installed a new chiller, doing all the work in-house to save dollars.”

Almost all of the participants in this cohort either embarked on upgrading to LED lighting as a result of SEM or are considering it.

Energy Trust helps determine what capital projects pencil out and offers cash incentives, based on energy savings, that can help offset the cost.

Employee/occupant engagement is critical
Because SEM focuses on lasting organizational behavioral change, it’s critical to get employees and occupants involved. Energy Trust’s experts help organizations develop an energy policy — an important step in promoting culture change. Participants use newsletters, signs and fairs to promote involvement and highlight success.

UCC Pool

Medford School District recognized that one of the best incentives for action is to share in the rewards. “When we first started SEM, schools that helped us with summer shutdown received $1,000 to use toward a program of their choice,” said Havniear. “This year, we gave a similar incentive to custodians to use at their school. Custodians are our boots on the ground and are critical to success.”

Medford School District recognized that one of the best incentives for action is to share in the rewards. “When we first started SEM, schools that helped us with summer shutdown received $1,000 to use toward a program of their choice,” said Havniear. “This year, we gave a similar incentive to custodians to use at their school. Custodians are our boots on the ground and are critical to success.

Why take the time to participate in SEM?
All of these organizations seek to trim energy costs in the face of ever tightening budgets, and it’s paying off. As Senior Master Sergeant Gadbury puts it: “In three years of SEM, we’ve saved thousands of dollars, and we should see even bigger savings next year.”

But there are other reasons at play — everything from environmental stewardship, to using taxpayer money wisely, to being seen as a leader and setting an example for the community.

“Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s values include a strong stewardship component,” said DeLong, “And we’re committed to doing what we can to mitigate the effects of climate change.”

Here’s how to get in on the savings
Businesses, nonprofits and government organizations are welcome to join SEM when another Southern Oregon cohort begins in January 2019. If you’re ready to join the team and get in on the savings, call 1.866.605.1676 or email

Energy Trust also offers Strategic Energy Management for industrial companies.

Susan Jowaiszas. Sr. Marketing Manager/Commercial & Industrial at Energy Trust of Oregon, Inc

Energy Trust of Oregon is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to helping utility customers benefit from saving energy and generating renewable energy. Our services, cash incentives and solutions have helped participating customers of Portland General Electric, Pacific Power, NW Natural, Cascade Natural Gas and Avista save nearly $3.2 billion on their energy bills. Our work helps keep energy costs as low as possible and builds a sustainable energy future.

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