Easthampton businesses to improve energy efficiency in WMECO pilot program



Last modified: Sunday, August 18, 2013

EASTHAMPTON — When a company offers to upgrade and improve a business’ digs for free, some owners might think it too good to be true.

But that’s what Western Massachusetts Electric Co. is doing for 30 small businesses in downtown Easthampton, as part of its Main Street Energy Efficiency pilot program.

The program, to be rolled out soon in other western Massachusetts communities, provides free energy-efficiency upgrades including lighting, programmable thermostats and occupancy sensors as well as water saving devices.

The effort targets small, downtown businesses.

“It’s just wonderful that they’re actually willing to help businesses, especially here,” said Barbara Paul, owner of Perfect Arrangements at 79 Union St. “It’s an old town, the buildings are old that we’re utilizing and we appreciate any help in updating them.”

Paul has been trying to upgrade her inefficient fluorescent lights for most of the three years she’s been in the floral business.

“Lighting can have a big effect on flowers. Different lights have different effects on different colors. Now it’s pretty dim back there,” she said, referring to an area of her store. “But the funds are never there, it’s always on the back burner.”

Paul estimated it would cost her upwards of $1,200 to replace all the old lights with new, energy-efficient ones. She had been talking to WMECO about a program that would have paid a portion of the costs, but was thrilled when city officials told her about the Main Street Energy Efficiency program that would do it all for free.

“I was so happy to be included,” she said. “And I was kind of surprised they would help businesses.”

Priscilla Ress, a WMECO spokeswoman, said businesses like Paul’s are ideal sites for simple efficiency measures.

“The program targets small businesses because they are often surviving on tight budgets,” Ress said. “They may not have the money up front to do these improvements.”

Ress said the program opened to the first 30 businesses on Main, Union and Cottage streets that asked to be included. The slots filled quickly.

WMECO’s contractor, Hanna Electric of Somers, Conn., will come to Easthampton to do energy-efficiency assessments of participating businesses in about a week. Then the company will order all the parts and make the replacements “in one fell swoop,” Ress said, which saves time and money.

Carrying out the program in Easthampton will cost about $55,000, she said. Along with other energy-efficiency services, incentives and rebates, the program is supported by all WMECO customers who pay an “energy conservation charge” on each month’s bill.

Even though the program is labeled a pilot, Ress said the company already knows it will take it to other main streets soon.

“Easthampton is just the first on the list,” she said.

Why selected

Hampshire County’s second-largest city was chosen as the inaugural community because of its “vibrant and eclectic small business community,” she said. “Our energy efficiency experts already have a working relationship with some of these businesses, so it was a logical place to kick off this program,” she said.

Another reason was WMECO’s relationship with Mayor Michael A. Tautznik.

Tautznik, she said, “is always on the lookout for innovative and effective energy-efficiency programs that will improve the quality of life for the people of Easthampton. We couldn’t ask for a better ambassador.”

The mayor personally delivered fliers advertising the program to businesses, so Juliette Mooers, who owns Valley Art Supplies at 76 Cottage St. with her husband, Edward Mooers, said she knew it wasn’t a scam.

“It sounds awesome,” Mooers said. “I’m excited about it.”

Valley Art Supplies, in business almost nine years, already has a programmable thermostat and energy-efficient light bulbs, Mooers said. But she’s hoping the assessment will yield ways they can make the small store even more efficient. “We’re all about going through with it,” she said of the upgrades.

The amount of energy and money the businesses will save with the measures will depend on what the changes are and how much energy they use.

“We do know that they will see immediate savings,” Ress said.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.


 

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