Award-worthy partnerships help industry compete

Ali Jamal and Craig Williams of the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters association, which is up for a Power Smart Excellence Award this month.

Nina Winham

Everyone can use a little help from their friends, even a utility as large and visible as BC Hydro. When it comes to spreading the energy efficiency message, BC Hydro has found that teaming up with association partners goes a long way, especially in the industrial sector.

For the past two years, BC Hydro has worked with two industrial associations, the BC Food Processors Association (BCFPA) and the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME). The associations have brokered BC Hydro programs to their memberships (and their entire sectors, beyond their memberships), and BC Hydro has provided funding for an energy manager program that members of each industry can access.

It's been such a win-win that both associations are finalists in this year's Power Smart Excellence Awards. But in the much bigger picture, it's also a win for B.C. – and for the competitiveness of our province's industrial sector.

"If you're like me, I knew about BC Hydro Power Smart for 20 years. It's a terrific brand," says Craig Williams, the B.C. Vice President of CME. "I always knew to put my sweater on, turn off the light when I left the room, turn down the thermostat at night. But in all my years as a CEO of manufacturing companies, I didn't realize that BC Hydro had programs for the industrial sector."

That's partly because BC Hydro only re-launched its Industrial Program in 2005. But it's also because busy companies often don't hear the energy-efficiency message, or they lack qualified resources to take it on.

"Everybody knows that word of mouth is some of the best PR you can get," says Kymm Girgulis, the Key Account Manager for the two associations. CME and BCFPA have helped promote Power Smart programs to their sectors, and Girgulis has had the opportunity to learn from association members.

"This lets us get involved at a more grassroots level," Girgulis says. "Talking with a single company is helpful, but it's nice to have a forum where groups can put an industry issue on the table and have an open discussion about it. It really allows me to hone in on what the issues are and how we can help them. And it helps us reach smaller companies who might otherwise fall through the cracks in terms of hearing about our programs or accessing them."

Sharing an energy manager

The partnership with CME has signed up 50 manufacturers to work with an energy manager (paid for by BC Hydro) to conduct an energy audit at their facility. From there, companies are supported in determining which Power Smart rebates and incentives might apply, and which next steps make the most sense.

So far, a potential 7 GWh of energy savings has been identified – and CME has signed on to recruit another 100 companies to the program in the next two years.

Donna Brendon and Robin Smith of the B.C. Food Processors Association.  

The BCFPA program has targeted participation of 20 food processors, with products ranging from food to furniture and from clothing to fabricated metal parts. Despite the diversity of the companies, they are all able to benefit from improved energy management.

Based on the applications for Power Smart incentives, it appears companies stand to save between 10-30% of their energy costs once they complete their initial upgrade projects.

"The program helps hold the hand of mid-sized manufacturers, who don't have resources to do this, or who often don't have the technical wherewithal," says Williams. "BC Hydro's incentives are very good, some of the best we've seen in the country, and they help take long pay-back projects and bring them down so they're economically viable. So the energy manager program helps lead them through the Hydro incentive programs to make investments that will reduce energy consumption."

Williams says CME has focus areas on both energy and environment, and productivity and competitiveness, and the partnership with BC Hydro offers value to the sector in both these areas.

"Our energy costs are very low compared to the rest of the country and the rest of the world," he notes. "As we start maintaining all that infrastructure we have, and start building new facilities, those costs are going to rise rapidly. Then, we're going to see a lot more drivers towards energy efficiency.

"Staying competitive is really critical to all of us in B.C.," he says. "We love to have an education system and a health care system, and to do that you've got to have companies that are profitable and you've got to have lots of jobs, because that's what pays the taxes.

"If our companies are not competitive with the world, there goes your tax base. So it's absolutely critical, when competing with countries that have low cost labour and no social systems, that we drive out every bit of waste. It's a culture change, but it's so fundamental to competitiveness and the existence of the way of life we have here in B.C."

Girgulis says the lessons BC Hydro is learning from its partnerships with CME and BCFPA may open the door to more association partnerships in the future. Meanwhile, one of the two associations could take home a Power Smart Excellence Award on October 25.

"Successful projects [with member companies] keep Hydro happy, keep our manufacturing members happy, and keep us happy, and that seems to be occurring," says Williams. "So we're really pleased to be recognized for that. We're looking forward to the awards night; it's going to be a great night."

Nina Winham is a Vancouver-based sustainability consultant and frequent contributor to and the Current Industrial eNewsletter.