Springs Utilities embracing green approach

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A dozen years ago, it might have been possible to characterize Colorado Springs Utilities as remiss in environmental stewardship.
Guided by longstanding city policies that gave precedence to low rates and efficient operations above everything else, CSU was slow to acknowledge the importance and the benefits of aggressive “green” programs.
But in recent years, CSU has enthusiastically embraced much of the so-called green agenda, not only striving to reduce its own operational footprint, but also offering multiple programs and incentives to its customers.
These programs, which have gradually increased in scope and importance, encourage residents and businesses to use energy and water more efficiently, thereby reducing their monthly bills.
For example, CSU offers cash rebates to residential customers who purchase energy- and water-efficient products. These rebates range from $1 for each compact fluorescent bulb purchased from participating retailers, without limit, to up to $200 for ENERGY STAR qualified windows. Other energy efficient products that qualify for rebates include home insulation, low-flow toilets, and clothes washers.
Business owners can benefit from the Peak Demand Rebate program.
The program is a Demand-Side Management solution for medium to large customers with the goal of obtaining peak summer electric demand reduction. Program participants provide verified electric demand savings through the installation of eligible DSM measures (energy efficiency and/or load shifting) in return for a $400 per kilowatt incentive. Eligible projects must combine to a minimum 10 kilowatt demand reduction during the summer peak period.
CSU also is offering business customers rebates to help cover the cost of retrofitting older fluorescent fixtures with new high efficiency T-8 lamps. Such upgrades offer customers multiple advantages, since T-8’s consume 40 percent less energy and put out less heat – not to mention eliminate flickering, and offer better color balance.
In partnership with Ent Federal Credit Union, CSU customers can sign up for the ‘Homevantage’ program, which allows homeowners to take advantage of low-interest rates to finance the installation of more than 60 different efficiency projects. Although relatively few customers have participated in the program, this may change if rates for home equity loans continue to climb.
One of CSU’s earliest green ventures was the xeriscape demonstration garden at the Mesa Water Treatment Plant. Established in the early 1990’s, the garden receives more than 22,000 visitors annually. They’re encouraged to take free information packages related to native plants, landscape and irrigation designs, and local soils. Twenty-two community volunteers contributed more than 1,500 hours last year to help maintain the garden.
CSU also has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in programs designed to make utility operations both more efficient and environmentally benign.
“We believe environmental stewardship is more than simply complying with regulations,” said Utilities CEO Jerry Forte.
CSU’s wastewater system, which had been widely criticized because of frequent raw sewage spills into Fountain creek, has been upgraded. More than 1,500 miles of pipeline have been repaired or replaced with a focus on critical areas such as creek crossings. In addition, more than 30,000 manhole covers have been secured to prevent vandalism.
John.Hazlehurst@scbj.com