BC Hydro employee helps strata complex save plenty

Mary Frances Hill

To misquote Margaret Mead, a small group of thoughtful people can change the world; in fact, it's the only thing that ever has.

The great anthropologist was speaking of revolutionary shifts when she spoke so famously of the grand achievements that can be made by the few. But the same could be said of relatively small groups today – a small or medium-sized business, non-profit group or a bunch of volunteers. Even a strata council – a handful of elected homeowners who represent the best interests of a group of homeowners – can make small changes for the better.

Eye-opener for a strata council

Rob Hicks, a senior advisor in Generation Strategic Procurement at BC Hydro, keeps busy in his off-hours as president of the strata council at the large Burnaby complex Place Fontainebleu. He surprised even himself when he learned the swift, long-lasting changes that could be achieved by his group with a few pro-active minor changes to conserve energy and save money.

From the outside, the task he and his fellow council members took on looked like a mammoth one. Place Fontainebleau is comprised of nine buildings with 130 townhouse units and three underground parking garages. Those garages contained 190 fixtures with two bulbs each.

The energy bills – consider that much of these costs come from fluorescent lighting in the complex's parkades, which are on 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – ran the residents about $8,000 a year. It was clear that Hicks and his fellow council members had to get smarter about energy.

His new knowledge of Power Smart and product incentive programs at BC Hydro gave him the tools to begin. The lighting was the first and most obvious launching pad toward making a viable difference.

"There had always been some concern of waste, but we didn't know if we could take advantage of anything under the Power Smart umbrella to reduce our costs," says Hicks.

Power Smart representatives visited the Coquitlam complex courtesy of the free business walk-through offered through the provincial government's LiveSmart BC program. The process was quick and easy.

The report that followed the walk-through noted that upgrading the lights in 43 exit signs in every building in the complex to LED technology would cost less than $1,500 to implement.

Albrite Lighting also replaced 190 two-lamp fixtures in Place Fontainebleu's parking garages. Each of these new fixtures will save an estimated $7.36 a year.

Total project costs, including products and installation were about $6,000, and Power Smart rebates and incentives offset those costs by about $3,000.

Add it all up and the strata figures to save about $1,398 a year on electricity cost and maintenance. The projected payback time for the project expense is eight months.

Benefits beyond the bank account

Power Smart figures suggest that, on average, 40% of electricity goes toward lighting in a commercial operation. If every small business in B.C. upgraded the lighting on one exit sign, it would be enough to power 1,300 homes.

When Hicks approached the rest of the council with the opportunity, the members didn't need much convincing once they understood its benefits.

"The problem, even with us, was awareness," Hicks says.

"I remember thinking the incentive program is a really good one, but too bad it doesn't extend to entities like us. In the end, we thought maybe we could get on the bandwagon. Sure enough, we could and we did."

Eligibility for the BC Hydro and LiveSmart BC walk-throughs is based on B.C. businesses with annual electricity bills of less than $50,000. It's a quick – usually 30 to 60 minute – visit by an energy expert that covers electricity and gas heating consumption.

Power Smart's Product Incentive Program, which focuses on lighting incentives for business customers, has delivered more than 1,800 projects since late 2003. The savings through that program add up to enough electricity to power 6,700 B.C. homes for a year.

Businesses in Greater Vancouver and Victoria can sign up online for the walk-throughs.

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Source: BC Hydro News