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Energy-saving program popular with businesses

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More than 30 local businesses already have signed up for the “Power Savings Blitz”—double the Fort Frances Power Corp.’s initial goal of 15.

“We’re really happy about it, but we’re going to push to get as many businesses on board as we can,” said Lori Cain, cost and regulatory analyst for the FFPC, noting the deadline to register is March 31.

It’s not too late to sign up the “Power Savings Blitz,” she stressed, adding small businesses are encouraged to call the FFPC (274-9291) for more information.

One business that has signed up for the program, sponsored by the Ontario Power Authority and first launched back in November, is Fort Frances General Supply.

“When we did our renovation, four or five years ago now, we had inquired to see if there was any assistance to make your business energy-efficient and there wasn’t any at the time, so we went ahead and did what we had to do,” said owner Bill Gushulak.

“But now with this program, there is an incentive to try to make your lighting or whatever power features you have in your building more energy-efficient,” he noted. “So if we can get some assistance with that, we’re willing to go for it.

“It’s a good time for us to do it,” Gushulak added. “Our renovation assisted us greatly to do that anyway, with more insulation and all those factors, but with regard to actual lighting fixtures, if that provides us with an opportunity to do something like that, we’ll be happy to do it.”

The FFPC and Thunder Bay Hydro were on hand to promote the program last Wednesday evening during the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce’s “Business After Hours” upstairs at La Place Rendez-Vous.

Billed as a way to “save electricity, save money, and help the environment,” the program offers a free electricity assessment, as well as funding up to $1,000 for lighting and water heating retrofits for small commercial businesses.

Energy assessors working for the FFPC will go door-to-door to those businesses that have signed up and offer free energy assessment of lighting and water heating to determine cost and savings opportunities.

After the assessment is complete, the business will choose if it wishes to proceed with a retrofit.

Participants may pay costs over the limit at their discretion, but the minimum amount for a retrofit is $300.

The program is open to small commercial businesses in the

office or non-food sub-sectors, with an electricity demand of less than 50kW (food-related businesses have unique requirements that may be addressed by other programs in the future).

The goal is to reduce electricity consumption while providing electricity savings through relatively simple upgrades, like installing energy-efficient T8 lighting and insulating water heaters.

FFPC president and CEO Joerg Ruppenstein said the “Power Savings Blitz” is an excellent program and encouraged as many eligible businesses as possible to sign up.

“We’re very pleased [with the response so far],” he enthused. “We really like to promote these conservation programs. We feel it’s a win-win for everybody.

“We’ve had some success through the ERIP [Electricity Retrofit Incentive Program] program, we’ve done some lighting retrofits as far as retrofitting rinks around the area, but this is actually my favourite program that’s come out from the OPA,” Ruppenstein added.

“I am very pleased with it.”

Ruppenstein said part of the appeal of the program is it is “straight-forward.”

“It is easy,” he remarked. “A lot of the work is being done for the customer, which I think is a great way to advertise and sell a program like this. You’re getting something for free that’s going to save you money year after year.

“I think it’s an absolutely great program, and I really encourage every business to sign up,” he stressed. “Even if you have questions, that’s what the assessment is for. Even if you think you might not qualify, sign up anyway and you may be pleasantly surprised.”

Gushulak said he likes the fact the program seems easy to use.

“I like the fact there’s very little paperwork,” he remarked. “It’s not very often you get something that comes across the board that doesn’t have a lot of paperwork associated with it.”

Alan Tibbetts of H&R Block here was another business owner who signed up for what he called “a great program for small businesses” last Wednesday evening at the Rendez-Vous.

“I’ve got fluorescent strip lighting, the old, old style, and was looking at changing over to the more efficient stuff, and this is a good opportunity,” he said. “I am impressed [by the program]. I went there specifically to find out about it because I have been reading up on some of these retrofit programs.

“It was very timely.”

On the other hand, Don Eldridge, owner of Lee Garden on Scott Street, wanted to sign up for “Power Savings Blitz” but because his business is a restaurant, he didn’t qualify for the program.

“At this point in time, the funding isn’t available to us,” he noted. “I am considering writing away to the OPA because it doesn’t seem to make a heck of a lot of sense.

“I can understand energy-specific issues with equipment, but lighting is lighting, domestic hot water systems are domestic hot water systems,” argued Eldridge. “I found it very hard to swallow, that we pay hydro, we pay taxes, so on and so forth, but yet, as a group, we [restaurant owners] don’t qualify.

“That disqualifies a lot of small businesses in Fort Frances. It was a bit disappointing.

“At this point, it’s kind of wait-and-see if potentially the program’s purview gets broadened, and maybe we’ll get on the list,” Eldridge added. “But at the moment, unfortunately, we don’t qualify.”

Still, Frank Oostveen, energy services advisor for Thunder Bay Hydro, said the program has been hugely successful in both Fort Frances and Thunder Bay so far.

“We’re way above our target to date. It’s been very successful,” he enthused.

Oostveen said the program not only helps save electricity, but will create work for those contracted to do the assessments and retrofits here in Fort Frances.

A qualified contractor to conduct the assessments and work has not been picked yet, but Oostveen and Ruppenstein said they’re hoping to hire on a local electrical contractor to do it.

After the March 31 deadline, the process of assessments and retrofit work will begin. Scheduling will be determined between the contractor and business.

NOHFC programs

In related news, last Wednesday’s “Business After Hours” at the Rendez-Vous was co-sponsored by the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, with local northern development officer Jane Gillon on hand to promote programs offered by the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp.

Tying into energy conservation, Gillon said the NOHFC offers the Internal Energy Generation Program, whereby businesses and not-for-profits can get 50 percent (up to $250,000) to do projects that either will reduce their use of hydro or fossil fuels.

“There’s been great uptake from the agriculture sector, different farms, and from the tourism sectors, but also eligible are hotels and restaurants. Not all businesses are eligible, but many are,” noted Gillon, citing manufacturing and service/accommodation as two examples.

“It’s a really good program. There’s a lot of savings,” she added.

Some examples of internal energy generation projects include solar power, wind power, biomass, and potentially geothermal.

“Anything that is a new, renewable source of energy,” Gillon explained.

She admitted these types of projects do take a period of time to pay for themselves.

“That’s why the government’s trying to encourage them to do it,” Gillon said. “In the long run, you end up hedging against higher prices because you’re producing some of your own energy.

“It should reduce operating costs in the long run.”

Gillon also said the NOHFC offers many other programs for the business community, such as the Young Entrepreneur Program, the Enterprises North Job Creation Program, Emerging Technology Program, and Youth Internship and Co-op Program, as well as the Infrastructure and Community Development Program for the public sector.

To find out more about the Internal Energy Generation Program or any other NOHFC offering, call Gillon at 274-5320, e-mail her at jane.gillon@ontario.ca, or visit www.mndm.gov.on.ca

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