Experts: Why energy-efficiency upgrades for your business may be easier (and cheaper) than you thought

PSEG’s Chiu: Country is spending $100 million a year on wasted energy from buildings

It’s a startling statement — about something that gets lost in the discussion of a clean energy future.

“Americans are spending $100 million a year on wasted energy from buildings — the heating, cooling and other energy-consuming things,” Susanna Chiu said. “And commercial buildings and residential buildings account for more than a third of the carbon emissions.”

Susanna Chiu

While so much effort is being spent on transitioning to clean energy as a way to cut carbon emissions, Chiu — the senior director, operation services at Public Service Electric & Gas — was quick to point out that conserving energy, in whatever form it’s being used, has enormous value.

Energy efficiency — what has been preached for decades — has an enormous impact, she said.

Chiu, a panelist at ROI-NJ’s recent webinar — “Energy Sustainability and Infrastructure” — said PSE&G aims to power the future with less energy.

She understands, however, that the company cannot do it alone.

“That’s the vision that our whole company is marching toward,” she said. “We also have this vision to get to net zero. But it requires everyone to work together.

“There have to be economic incentives to help our customers use less energy through energy-efficiency initiatives. PSEG and the other electric and gas utilities in the state have the obligation to meet electric and gas energy savings targets.

“And, while we offer a wide range of programs and incentives to help residences and businesses reduce energy and lower their bills, it has to be cost effective — cost effective for the state and for the customer.”

Christie McMullen

Christie McMullen, the president of Elizabethtown Gas, part of South Jersey Industries, said her utility is doing its part. 

“This is a shared responsibility between the utilities and our customers,” she said. “We want to be a resource to them. We worked in 2021 with the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities to expand our energy-efficiency programs by $216 million. And this is going to help our customers save over $300,000 in energy costs over its lifetime. And we offer a wide variety of programs: 0% financing, on-bill repayment, rebates and energy efficiency equipment, and things that are also tailored solutions for commercial and industrial customers.”

Amy Cradic, chief operating officer at New Jersey Resources, said her group has a number of programs, too.

“All of the utilities are working hard on this,” she said.

“It can be an investment for them without the lower monthly cost of doing business,” she said. “That’s hard to contemplate, particularly during an inflationary period. They’re making hard choices every day.”

Because of this, many utilities have 0% financing and bill repay structures — so no upfront money is required, the panelists said.

Rebecca Moll Freed

Rebecca Moll Freed, a partner at Genova Burns, said she often works with clients to see the big picture.

“Some of them are thinking about, how do I make payroll? How do I do this?” she said. “But it does help them save money — where that business and location can then maybe expand and hire more people or pay higher wages or offer better things.”

Ken Sheehan, counsel at Genova Burns and a former regulator, said he knows businesses can benefit.

“Simply taking care of your facilities and taking advantage of the programs that are already in place are going to go a long way,” he said.

Chiu said there are so many programs, from smart thermostats to more energy-efficient lights and HVAC units. Many, she said, do not require upfront capital.

“We want you to make that energy-efficient choice,” she said. “We know that businesses are struggling to get that upfront capital to get these projects done. 

“How can we best do that? Besides offering incentives to buy down the cost of the equipment, we’re also offering on-bill repayment. So, it’s a combination of things that we offer, as well as things that are offered by the suppliers that are already out in the market. 

“We’re working hard to grow an energy-efficient economy.”