By Hilary Corrigan • The Bulletin

Energy audits

For more information on getting a free energy assessment done at a small area business or on volunteering to help do those assessments, contact The Environmental Center at 541-385-6908 or kim@envirocenter.org. For more information on local energy efforts, visit www.envirocenter.org/programs/bend-energy-challenge.

An audit at Central Oregon Locavore in Bend last week did not review the shop’s finances.

Instead, it checked light bulbs for efficiency, noted the age of refrigerators, documented drafts at windows and doors and offered tips to save money on monthly energy bills at the indoor market.

The audit was a free service from The Environmental Center in Bend, which offers energy assessments to small businesses in the area. The center uses engineering students who volunteer to put some of their theories and knowledge into hands-on practice by visiting area shops and offices to see if they’re wasting energy.

Unlike large chain stores, small local businesses often do not have an employee focused on managing the operation’s energy and often do not have the money to immediately upgrade an entire lighting system or replace appliances with more energy efficient ones. The free assessments look to provide lists of ways for businesses to use energy more efficiently. Tailored to that business’s operations and setting, the center offers steps that can be taken over time to save energy and money.

On Thursday, volunteer Nick Cerveny, an engineering student at OSU-Cascades, visited the small grocery store where market manager Natalie Danielson walked him through some of its operations. Cerveny looked at the light bulbs used in refrigerators, asked which overhead lights get left on overnight, checked the weather stripping along doors.

Cerveny said changes often cause no inconvenience or noticeable difference for people.

Cerveny will enter the details he noted from his Locavore visit — along with the store’s utility bill data — into an online tool that will generate customized recommendations. It will also quantify the energy and cost savings from doing those recommended steps, telling the business the amount of money it can expect to spend and save.

“It can really have a major impact on their bottom line,” said Kim McClain, an environmental coordinator at The Environmental Center. McClain pointed to a downtown business that reduced its energy bill by 40 percent, largely by installing LED light bulbs.

Danielson noted that the market sells local food, offers customers incentives for bringing their own bags, composts vegetables that it cannot sell and buys food from producers who practice sustainability. It makes sense for the business to also take steps to make its space more energy efficient, Danielson said.

The market probably can’t take all the recommended steps at once, but could likely accomplish them over time, she said.

She noted Locavore’s donated old refrigerators, which use a lot of energy and would be expensive to replace all at once because there are about two dozen at the market. Although inefficient, they’re prized by Locavore and are now painted different colors and sport chalkboards on their doors to tell customers about the ground beef, steak, poultry or fish they contain.

“Saving on the energy bill is always appreciated,” Danielson said. “So if there are some simple ways we can do that without replacing all of our fridges, that would be helpful.”

One small tip: Use a long brush to clean dust from the coils under the fridges every six months. The dust helps them hold heat and use even more energy, like a person who keeps a coat on while trying to cool off, Cerveny said.

The center seeks more volunteers, including nonstudents, to help complete the assessments and more businesses to take part. So far, about 35 businesses have shown interest in getting an energy assessment, according to McClain, who noted the audits target small businesses of fewer than 50 workers.

The effort is tied to a couple of national efforts meant to boost energy efficiency and involve students and community members. Those include Georgetown University’s Energy Prize. That competition, dubbed a race for efficiency, involves 50 communities across the nation trying to reduce carbon emissions, energy use and energy costs. The two-year competition ends early next year and offers a $5 million prize that a community can use for energy efficiency-related efforts.

The center also aims to help businesses pursue incentives for efficient LED light bulbs and to help reduce the upfront cost of bigger projects like adding insulation or replacing a furnace.

“We want businesses to know how simple it is to reduce their energy cost and therefore their carbon emissions,” McClain said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812,

hcorrigan@bendbulletin.com

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