Energize Delaware spreads the word about energy efficiency

New Castle County’s Habitat or Humanity completed construction of seven energy-efficient town homes in Wilmington, and received a rebate for $20,300 from DESEU as part of its Green for Green program. (Photo courtesy of DESEU)
New Castle County’s Habitat or Humanity completed construction of seven energy-efficient town homes in Wilmington, and received a rebate for $20,300 from DESEU as part of its Green for Green program. (Photo courtesy of DESEU)

Tony DePrima may be his own best marketing tool.  After a restart of the Delaware Sustainable Energy Utility (DESEU) in 2013, the executive director has been making rounds to promote the initiatives under its Energize Delaware banner.

“I’ve done everything from church basement meetings to local government and rotary talks,” said DePrima.

And he has a lot to talk about.

The DESEU calls itself a one-stop shop for energy savings education and opportunities for homeowners, businesses, nonprofits and schools.  Its eight programs include funding and financing options for energy assessments, energy efficiency initiatives and loans to ease the upfront investment required to realize long-term savings.

Two additional incentive programs that target low-income homeowners will be rolled out in the fall, he said.

According to DePrima, the high cost of energy and a growing public sentiment toward energy efficiency and good stewardship are increasing the demand for the DESEU’s programs.

“It seems to be a pretty simple business decision on something that will have a solid payback, but some businesses are still leery of going into debt,” said DePrima. “When we do come across business people who get it, it’s an easy sell.”

The program operates through partnerships with the Delaware Valley Green Building Council to assist with the Pathways to Green Schools program, the University of Delaware Industrial Assessment Center, which conducts energy audits as part of the revolving loan program, and the Delaware Division of Energy and Climate to facilitate the application process for its solar and geothermal-based programs.

According to its 2014 Annual Report, the Energize Delaware program generated $358,782 in energy savings last year. Lifetime energy savings are more than $7 million.

Real estate developer Buccini/Pollin Group received the first commercial $1 million low-interest loan from the Energize Delaware program for improvements to its 1105 N. Market St. office building.

“The economy was terrible and we were trying to find ways to reduce costs doing things that made the most sense,” explained Ralph Rossi, senior vice president of commercial operations at Buccini/Pollin.

Like others, an energy audit of the building forced them to draw a line in the sand and determine which energy conservation measures would offer a big return for the company and its tenants.

The audit determined that a $1.7 million investment in the 20-story building’s lighting, air and heating systems could save approximately $170,000 a year in utilities.

“The project was very appetizing until you realized it was 2008 and we didn’t have $1.7 million to fund the project,” said Rossi.

The company turned to Energize Delaware. Additional funding from the state’s Energy Efficiency Investment Fund left the company with a capital investment that Rossi said they could afford.

Improvements included upgraded lighting, replacement of the boiler from oil to natural gas, and replacing the cooling tower.

“We cut our usage by almost 800,000 kilowatts a year,” said Rossi. “That’s a dollar per square foot. As far as an energy efficiency project, it’s a home run.”

GPX Realty Partners in Pennsylvania, which owns several buildings in Delaware, applied for a loan from Energize Delaware to overhaul the lighting at its University Office Plaza complex on Chapman Road.

Senior Vice President of Operations Chris Canale said he knew that replacing fluorescent lighting with LED would give him a 60 to 70 percent savings. But when he added the savings from bulb to bulb, he was still surprised.

Before replacing 2,601 bulbs in the six-building complex, Canale said he spent approximately $180,000 in energy consumption and maintenance costs. Post-replacement, he’s looking at $35,000, a projected savings of more than $140,000.

“Yes it’s the right thing to do,” said Canale. “But it puts money in the investor’s pocket and saves money for the tenants.”

Not just for business anymore

Christina School District is also looking at cost-saving measures through Energize Delaware initiatives.

According to Demeter Picciotti, a facilities manager at the district, her team is looking at cost-saving initiatives part of Energy Efficiency Program that includes upgrades to several of its schools, including Glasgow High School and Gauger-Cobbs Middle School.In addition, West Park Place Elementary School in Newark was selected to receive an energy audit through the DESEU as part of the Pathways to Green Schools program.

Jocelyn Tice, executive director at Central Delaware Habitat for Humanity, serves on the steering committee for DESEU’s Green for Green program.

The program gives Delaware’s new home buyers rebates between $1,000 to $4,500 for properties upgraded to national standards for energy efficiency, water conservation, indoor air quality, building materials and other conservation-oriented, energy-savings features, according to SEU materials.

Tice said the goal of her organization is to meet Silver energy rating criteria under the program, which means a $2,500 rebate that goes back to the nonprofit.

Since 2013, all eight of homes constructed by Central Delaware Habitat for Humanity have received the rating.

DePrima said he’s happy with the DESEU’s accomplishments. In the past year, the organization launched a new website, developed its first comprehensive Strategic Plan, and administered eight incentive programs for homeowners, businesses schools and nonprofits. It also hired a program manager to oversee its separate programs.

DePrima said the focus now is marketing their offerings and assessing their value.

“We want to layer in more programs and then we’ll be focused on making sure these programs are properly measured, verified and evaluated so we can confidently say this is a good way to spend our funding.”

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