NEW YORK – Amid warnings that some states could encounter power problems similar to those in California, small business owners should start thinking now about their energy strategies for the peak usage periods of the summer.
Businesses in some states might find they’re subject to the kinds of rolling blackouts that California suffered earlier this year. But even in states where power supplies are plentiful, electricity rates are likely to rise, which means business owners need to preserve their profits along with kilowatts.
An Associated Press survey of power officials in all 50 states found power is expected to be tight in some Western states, and there are concerns about utilities being able to deliver electricity in some states in the Midwest and Northeast if demand is extremely high and transmission logjams develop.
If you’re in a state where problems are anticipated, think now about how you’ll cope. For example, are you able to shift business hours away from peak periods? That might not be feasible if your business is a retail establishment or a restaurant, but if you operate, say, a medical billing service, perhaps the work can be done during off-hours. If you run a manufacturing company, does it make economic sense to pay workers a little more to work a different shift?
You also need to think about insurance. There’s a split in opinion among insurance experts over whether sales and profits lost to power blackouts are covered under business interruption policies.
If your business involves perishable material such as food, be sure you have a policy that covers losses from spoilage — or maybe you should think about investing in a generator to run your refrigerator.
The problem likely to affect most business owners this summer will be rising electrical bills. Power is much more expensive these days not just because of increasing demand, but because the price of natural gas used to fire many electrical plants has surged over the past year. The AP survey found that some of the rate hikes are expected to be huge — as much as 30 percent in Louisiana, and in Rhode Island, businesses might see their rates rises as much as 46 percent.
The Alliance to Save Energy, a not-for-profit organization, has a Business Energy Checkup on its Web site (www.ase.org) that you can use to find ways to cut your bills. The U.S. Department of Energy’s site (www.doe.gov) also has a section to help businesses. Your local utility might also have information, either on the Internet or through its public affairs office.
But many of the things you need to do to lower your company’s electricity costs are the same common-sense steps you’d use in trimming your home utility bills. Start by looking over your entire operation and see how energy is being used — and wasted.
First, check your appliances and equipment — especially your air conditioning system — and be sure they’re running efficiently. Are they being serviced regularly, and given necessary repairs? Would you be better off buying new appliances? If so, be sure the new ones are as energy-efficient as possible — the Department of Energy’s site has information on “Purchasing for Energy Efficiency”.
Equally important is going over your entire office or building, and making sure that it’s well insulated and weather-stripped. If not, you’ll be air conditioning the outdoors this summer and throwing money down the drain in the process.
Some other ways to lower your summertime energy costs:
—Consider installing blinds or window shades to help keep the sun from heating up your business and increasing your need to cool the place.
—If you have desk lamps that use incandescent bulbs, switch to fluorescents. They last longer, use less electricity, and don’t throw off as much heat.
—Turn off the lights at night. If you’re worried about intruders seeing a darkened establishment, then leave fewer lights on, and use a timer to shut them off once dawn breaks. The kilowatt hours you’ll save will add up.
Again, you might want to consider working during off-hours. Some utilities charge less for power used during non-peak periods. And if you can get more work done at night, you might find you’re using less air conditioning.