Monday, November 15, 2010

Green Power

The Daily News ran a story on our Green Power Switch program...

MLGW Spearheads Green Switch Concept
Monday, November 15, 2010, Vol. 125, No. 222
JEFF IRELAND | Special to The Daily News

In any economic climate, it’s pretty rare when businesses take actions that aren’t beneficial to the bottom line.

And when the economy is struggling, taking action that doesn’t produce immediate financial benefits is generally not considered a sound business practice.

But with a nod to the future of the economy, as well as the environment, there are companies in the Memphis area that are taking a chance on a relatively unproven concept: utilizing renewable energy sources.

Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division has spearheaded the concept locally. In conjunction with the Tennessee Valley Authority, in 2005 MLGW began the Green Power Switch, a green energy pricing program designed to fund new sources of electric generation. By converting the energy in the sun, wind and methane gas, TVA generates a portion of its electricity from renewable sources and mixes the green energy into the overall electric supply, reducing the need for traditional generation.

MLGW customers can purchase blocks of the renewable energy as an investment in the future.

According to Becky Williamson, strategic marketing coordinator for MLGW, 16 businesses are currently involved in the program.

“There’s not an economic benefit to customers directly, but the community benefit is what really matters,” Williamson said.

Renewable energy sources are, of course, free. But the devices that capture that energy and generate electricity are far more expensive to construct than traditional ones.

“I think sometimes there’s a disconnect that it costs more to turn that renewable energy into power,” Williamson said.

Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped businesses from using renewable energy when constructing new buildings.

The Flintco Cos., a construction company with offices in Memphis and six other U.S. cities, has been involved in numerous large projects in Memphis and has been in the business since 1908.

Division President Kevin Moyes has noticed an increased interest in green energy from his business’ clients.

“Sustainability is a big factor right now,” Moyes said. “On the construction side there are a lot more sustainable-design facilities.”

Flintco is currently involved in the construction of a prison in East Tennessee that is recycling water and using a geo-thermal system that will allow the facility to save money on boilers and HVAC-related equipment.

“In my opinion, people are being more sensitive to the environment,” Moyes said. “Three years ago it would be almost a premium cost to do something like that. We’re seeing that change more and more. Manufacturers are using more recyclable materials. The cost has come way down. In some ways it’s shifting toward a standard way of doing business.”

Even though going green is becoming more economically feasible, Moyes said the economic benefits aren’t felt immediately.

“For example, that prison will probably be around for 30 or 40 years,” he said. “Some clients are looking to save money long term.”

Mike Collins, vice president of the building group at Allen & Hoshall, a Memphis engineering firm, has noticed the trend toward green energy as well.

“Once a week somebody asks me about renewable energy,” said Collins, a 17-year employee at a company that does $15 million in business a year. “It’s solar usually. The costs are coming down.”

He’s involved in the design of Legends Park, a 16-roof, mixed-housing development going up on Poplar Avenue. Solar panels are being installed on the roofs, which is a very popular way to take advantage of the sun’s energy.

“As long as there’s government assistance, you’ll see more and more,” Collins said. “With flat cost it just won’t pay for itself. With assistance it becomes viable.”

According to Williamson, there’s no better time to go green.

There are federal tax credits available to residential MLGW customers who want to install energy-efficient systems. The program expires at the end of the year and reimburses customers 30 percent of their investment, up to $1,500. Business tax incentives are available to commercial customers.

Williamson points out that when less energy is used, the savings are passed on to everybody in the long run.

“Everything we can do to lower utility bills helps the environment,” Williamson said, “and the community as well.”

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