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State helps small businesses reduce energy costs

By Ethan Bliss, Special to the Daily Planet
Tuesday July 16, 2002

Energy-efficient lights save
$1,000 a year, program says


Since enrolling in the Smart Lights Program last November, Black Oak Books on Shattuck Avenue has saved the energy that three single family homes would use in a year. 

“It’s a no-brainer,” bookstore manager Nick Setka said of investing in the program. “It’s like asking people to invest $1,000 in their car so that they can save more than a third of their cost in gas. And we’re saving electricity, so it’s something good for the environment.” 

The nonprofit Community Energy Services Corporation of Berkeley runs the Smart Lights Program of Berkeley and Oakland. It is distributing $2 million that the state set aside last year for energy conservation programs for small businesses. All told the state allocated $700 million for businesses in California. 

The program offsets rising energy costs. In 2001, energy costs for small businesses rose 40 percent.  

“It’s simple from a client’s perspective,” said Neal De Snoo, an energy officer for Smart Lights. “Often, it’s hard for a small business to research or analyze their own energy efficiency. We bring a uniform program out to them.” 

Smart Lights is working with the California Public Utilities Commission. “The small business sector has not been a traditional target for energy rebate programs,” said Maria Sanders, program manager for Smart Lights.  

Smart Lights hires contractors to analyze which lights will be most efficient for each business. In addition, Smart Lights gives businesses a discount on installation and retrofitting, along with an estimate of how much money the business will save with the new lights. 

Savings for small businesses are estimated at about $1,000 each year. Typically, a business recovers the cost of installation in a year. 

The process was not complex for Kim Moore at Uncommon Grounds Gourmet Coffee in Berkeley. “They look at existing scenarios with regards to lighting, the possibility of switching lights and then help determine the net savings,” Moore said. 

Six months ago, Uncommon Grounds Gourmet Coffee on Seventh Street replaced many of its lights. “The savings have been significant,” Moore said. 

Typical upgrades include replacing traditional fluorescent and incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lights. 

With a goal of consulting 31 businesses a week, the group is on track to saving businesses in the state more than $1 million. Sanders said. 

“Our goal of 1,000 businesses by the middle of next year is huge,” said Sanders.  

Berkeley or Oakland business owners interested in the Smart Lights Program can call 981-8955.