Businesses take aim at high energy bills

Tips for saving money this winter

By: Mike Mathis
   WEST WINDSOR — To save money on energy, homeowners can caulk windows, service their furnaces and use energy-efficient appliances. Business owners can do the same things, but there are other ways businesses can help contain the cost of energy and reduce the sting of high energy bills and the cold weather expected this winter.
   With the average cost of heating a home expected to soar $300 to $400 this winter, officials are urging homeowners and businesses to renew their conservation efforts and reminding large and small businesses that they are not immune from those high expenses.
   "Businesses are not alone in paying these high bills," said Seema M. Singh, the state’s ratepayer advocate, who recently attended meetings in West Windsor delivering that message. "If you’re paying that bill, you’re more aware of the need to make changes."
   The higher energy costs are being driven by greater worldwide demand and shortages stemming from the series of hurricanes that ravaged the Gulf Coast in August and September.
   The state Division of the Ratepayer Advocate publishes a free Consumer Conservation Handbook to guide homeowners and businesses in their efforts to conserve energy.
   "In light of continued increases in natural gas costs, I strongly encourage consumers to renew their conservation efforts now," said Ms. Singh, whose agency represents the interests of consumers of electric, natural gas, water and sewer, and telecommunications and cable TV service. "We, unfortunately, are all in for a very tough winter with higher heating bills."
   Ms. Singh acknowledged that it is sometimes more difficult to get larger businesses to engage in energy-saving practices.
   "If a single person doesn’t own the business, they don’t concentrate on" energy costs, she said. "It’s the last thing on your mind."
   To conserve energy, businesses can use florescent and low-watt bulbs and consider heating with solar panels, Ms. Singh said. Grants and rebates are available to businesses undertaking renewable energy and energy efficiency improvements, such as installation of solar panels and more efficient heating, air conditioning and lighting equipment, according to the state Board of Public Utilities.
   Businesses can apply for up to $1 million in low-interest loans and guarantees to finance the project, according to the board’s Web site.
   Businesses also can install weather stripping around windows and doors and programmable timers, improve ventilation, ask employees not to leave computers on when not in use and to activate the sleep mode on computers, Ms. Singh said.
   Programmable thermostats can help reduce costs in schools and businesses that can become excessively hot, forcing employees to open the windows and waste energy, she said.
   Ms. Singh said businesses also can install energy-efficient appliances in their kitchens and cafeterias.
   Most such appliances manufactured today comply with the Energy Star labeling program, a government-backed initiative that helps protect the environment through energy efficiency.
   Americans saved enough energy using Energy Star appliances last year to power 24 million homes and avoid greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those from 20 million cars — all while saving $10 billion, according to Environmental Protection Agency, which administers the program.
   The Energy Star label is now on major appliances, office equipment, lighting and home electronics, and the EPA has extended the label to cover new homes and commercial and industrial buildings, according to its Web site.
   For more information or to order a free copy of the Consumer Conservation Handbook, call (973) 648-2690 or visit the state Division of the Ratepayer Advocate Web site at