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Energy study helps casino win big with $56,000 in annual savings

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Demand for power increases, but River Rock cuts its energy bill

River Rock Casino Resort energy manager and chief engineer Mike Urbas says he's faced with the challenge of "people wanting more power, more power all the time."

"Every time I go through a kitchen, they've got a new appliance there," says Urbas. "We've added a number of new slot machines, three escalators, and everybody wants digital signage."

That should mean escalating costs. But at River Rock, electricity bills have actually been coming down.

"At the same time, we've knocked 700,000 kWh off our bill," says Urbas, referring to what adds up to savings of about $56,000 per year on electricity bills.

With a little help from Power Smart...

Urbas' lucky charm in the energy savings game is the energy study he commissioned in early 2010. With 50% paid for by BC Hydro (and the rest reimbursed when you implement a project), it was no gamble, and all payoff.

"[The study] tells you where the energy is going, what percentage goes to heating for the hotel rooms, casino lighting, cooling, how much energy your pumps are using, how much energy your fans are using," says Urbas. "And then, the part that I'm mostly interested in, is projects for reducing energy."

At about 100 pages, Urbas says the River Rock energy study impressed his executives with its thoroughness, and was a clear fit with the green directions they wish to promote. For him, it's a goldmine for energy saving opportunities, large to small.

One simple project included adding a motion sensor on the water slide in the pool, so that the pump only switches on when someone climbs the stairs.

"I hate to think that's the one I'm really well known for, but it's true," Urbas jokes. "That caused some good savings."

On a larger scale, the study identified that the cooling system throughout the resort could be turned up to 8 degrees Celsius instead of 5.5 degrees. That cut energy required by the chillers alone by 130,000 kWh per year — enough to power about 12 B.C. homes.

A great place to start... and continue

Mike Urbas, energy manager and chief engineer, River Rock Casino Resort.

'With technology, there are always opportunities'

Urbas says that when he did the energy study, he was still new to energy management and was unsure how to get started.

"BC Hydro recommended the study, and it was good learning because it gives you a really good overview of what you have in your building," he recalls. "The energy study comes up with a lot of energy-saving projects, with simple payback calculated for each one. You can choose which projects to do now, or do later.

"I would find it extremely hard to do any significant energy reductions in your building if you didn't have this kind of information."

Since the energy study, Urbas has implemented about 10 of its recommended projects, with a total energy saving of nearly 1.3 GWh, or about $100,000 in electricity savings. He's also commissioned energy studies for two other properties owned by Great Canadian Gaming Corporation — Fraser Downs Racetrack and Casino and Boulevard Casino — and is implementing energy saving projects there.

"I probably do a small project once a month, then maybe two to three larger projects over the year," he says, commenting on his continuous improvement approach. "You'd think you might go, 'Okay, I'm running out of ideas,' but it doesn't seem to happen that way. With the amount of technology that's coming out this quickly, there are always opportunities."

Urbas says the company has now agreed to repeat the energy study every five years. "It shows how excited the executives get about the amount of information you get in an energy audit, and the way it helps them pursue green goals."

He says another value of the audit report is continuity — should he leave his position, a new energy manager would have clear understanding of the work that's been done, and that remains to do.

"The price of electricity is going up," says Urbas. "You should only be using what you need, so you have to try to pull that back a little bit, or to help use the energy more wisely. It's really important that someone sits down and calculates out all the options — if you don't, you're going to be paying so much more in three to five years."