Highlights Work Microgrid Has Done for the Cardinals

cardinals and microgrid energy article

Microgrid has been fortunate to call the Cardinals a client since 2009. The energy work the Cardinals are doing, led by Joseph Abernathy,Vice President of Busch Stadium Operations,  has had positive repercussions throughout Major League Baseball. Following his pioneering lead, the National Resources Defense Council has carried this trend to the other professional sporting leagues to help green up their games.

The article below highlights the AmerenUE efficiency incentives, which Microgrid is using to help the Cardinals achieve ever higher levels of energy performance.


AmerenUE’s energy savings rebates see few takers among businesses

Posted: 06/10/2010 3:00 AM

BY JEFFREY TOMICH – When boutique architecture firm Space LLC made a neglected building in St. Louis’ Grove neighborhood into sleek, modern offices, $17,000 from AmerenUE aided the transformation.

The money helped pay for a $100,000 alternative energy system, including 15 geothermal wells that reach 200 feet beneath the adjacent parking lot and a rooftop thermal solar array.

The system cost $40,000 more than a traditional heating and cooling system. But it will help slash the building’s energy use by half. With the Ameren rebate and a 30 percent reimbursement from stimulus money, the decision was a no-brainer, said Tom Niemeier, the firm’s founding principal.

Not every decision to invest in energy efficiency is so easy. That’s especially true in AmerenUE’s service area, where electricity is relatively cheap.

The Missouri utility’s efficiency program for businesses is a tangible example of how customers have been slow to embrace energy saving investments. Of $24 million set aside for the program in February 2009, more than $21 million remains.

Pat Justis, who left the Missouri Department of Natural Resources in 2008 to run the business efficiency program, acknowledges that participation has lagged expectations. But results should be measured in energy savings, not dollars, he said.

“I feel good about the numbers we’re getting,” Justis said.

As of May 31, AmerenUE business customers had completed projects that will save 50 million kilowatt-hours of electricity in the first year — the equivalent of power used by 4,000 homes. Efficiency projects representing another 57 million kilowatt-hours per year are in the pipeline.

To some energy-efficiency advocates, the fact that millions of dollars set aside to help fund energy-saving projects remains untapped is a symptom of a larger problem, and illustrates why Missouri consistently ranks near the bottom of states for energy efficiency.

“The regulatory regime for energy efficiency in Missouri is really lacking,” said Rebecca Stanfield, senior energy advocate for the Natural Resource Defense Council. “There are neither standards to hold (utilities) accountable or incentives for them to do a good job.”

AmerenUE’s business efficiency program grew out of a 2008 plan that calls for reducing electricity use across the utility’s service area by 540 megawatts (roughly, a medium-size power plant) by 2025. The utility subsequently launched an efficiency program aimed at its 1 million-plus residential customers.

The business program pays cash rebates up to $500,000 per customer for reducing energy use. Some projects are automatically eligible. Others must be preapproved. Efficiency projects must be complete by September 2011 to qualify for rebates.

Even though benefits of energy-efficiency projects are well-quantified and known to deliver savings, many businesses still can’t afford the upfront investments, especially on the heels of a recession, said Marc Lopata, a principal at Clayton-based Microgrid Energy.

Businesses of all size measure the value of efficiency projects by the time required for an investment to pay for itself through lower utility bills.

In AmerenUE’s service area, electricity rates are below the national average because of a strong reliance on coal. Meanwhile, construction costs are 6 percent to 15 percent above average, Lopata said.

One of his clients is the St. Louis Cardinals. On a hot summer month, electricity usage at Busch Stadium can exceed 2 million kilowatt-hours (compared with 1,100 kilowatt-hours for a typical St. Louis home), said Joe Abernathy, vice president of stadium operations.

The ballpark is just 4 years old, but the Cardinals are always looking for new ways to cut energy costs. “It’s a sizable amount of my operating budget to light and cool the building, so if we can find some efficiencies, it’s good business,” Abernathy said.

Last year, Cardinals received $11,000 through AmerenUE’s efficiency program to install occupancy sensors that reduce lighting costs. Now they’re looking for additional savings.

Abernathy said the Cardinals could cut energy costs by replacing the stadium’s cooling plant. But that could cost $2 million and wouldn’t pay off for at least five years. Instead, the club is more likely to make smaller, less expensive improvements with a faster payback, he said.

Also limiting participation in AmerenUE’s efficiency program are decisions by some of AmerenUE’s largest customers to opt out.

Nine of the utility’s largest industrial customers have sent AmerenUE letters citing their decision not to participate in the efficiency program to avoid having to help fund it in the future, Justis said.

The average rebate paid so far by AmerenUE is $3,800. In Ameren’s Illinois service area, where large customers are part of the program, the average rebate is $10,000.

Justis said he is frustrated that businesses aren’t more willing to invest in energy savings projects, even if they don’t have a quick payback. That’s especially true for the utility’s biggest customers, which have the most to save.

“We would like to convince those (big) customers that they shouldn’t opt out,” he said.

Justis said interest in AmerenUE’s efficiency program is growing as the economy rebounds and businesses become aware of the incentives available. The utility is relying mostly on a network of 200-plus trade allies — contractors, consultants and engineers — to publicize the program. Those firms are the ones that will benefit directly from the work.

Environmental groups and efficiency advocates insist the climate for investments in energy savings won’t improve until policies are in place that both hold utilities accountable for achieving goals and provide them an incentive.

Right now, AmerenUE has no financial incentive for helping customers reduce energy use. In fact, doing so hurts the utility’s bottom line.

Missouri regulators are in the process of drafting rules that would allow electric companies to recover costs and earn a return on energy-efficiency investments. The rules are based on legislation signed by Gov. Jay Nixon last summer.

Environmental advocates are pressing the Missouri Public Service Commission to also include in those rules energy-efficiency targets that would require utilities to deliver results.

The targets would achieve the same goal as Illinois’ energy-efficiency standard, a law that requires investor-owned utilities in the state to reduce electricity use in their service area by a certain percentage each year.

“We know how to do this because we’re doing it in almost every other Midwest state,” Stanfield said. “And Ameren is doing it itself right across the border in Illinois.”