Cowlitz PUD's conservation outreach not only includes houses and apartments, but also local businesses and industries. Today there's a growing emphasis on promoting energy efficiency in the industrial sector. The electric load numbers explain why.

In the entire Pacific Northwest, homes and apartments account for about 40 percent of all electric power consumption. But Cowlitz County is different. Less than 20 percent of the PUD's electric usage comes from the residential sector.

Conversely, while industrial facilities account for 23 percent of the region's load, in Cowlitz County that number is over 70 percent. That means we have a much larger potential for saving energy in the industrial sector as compared to most other parts of the Northwest.

Our conservation program is funded through electric rates. The Bonneville Power Administration was first required by Federal law to do so 30 years ago. Beginning in 2012, Cowlitz PUD is also committing $2 million a year through rates toward energy efficiency incentive programs to be compliant with Initiative 937, approved by state voters in 2006.

Those funds are distributed back to PUD residential, business and industrial customers - to be used for pre-approved energy efficiency measures. Based on the large share of electric usage on the industrial side, a large share of the conservation incentives are used to encourage industrial customers to save energy at their facilities.

And save they have.

During the past five years the PUD's industrial customers have racked up almost 13 megawatts of savings by utilizing programs designed with their needs in mind. That's three times the savings from all other PUD programs combined, and is enough to supply the electric needs of 6,500 households.

They are doing this while still maintaining or improving product quality, plant reliability, and production capacity. And some of the best project ideas have come from the very bright and dedicated employees at these facilities.

Projects vary in size and reflect the unique processes and customized equipment within each facility. Most common is the installation of Variable Frequency Drives (VFDs) on motors that power pumps and fans. VFDs allow for control of the speed of electric motors which otherwise only run at full speed.

Industrial equipment and motors are generally selected to meet "peak" process requirements, but such peaks are often rare. Usually, the required pressure or flow is less than what the pump or fan delivers under normal operation.

Before the advent of VFDs, a common control method was to use throttling valves (for pumps) and adjustable dampers (for fans). This method equates to controlling the speed of your car by laying a brick on the gas pedal and constantly adjusting the brake pressure. In other words, not too efficient.

And just as driving like this would waste fuel and quickly wear out your brakes, there can be similar impacts on the life of industrial equipment. But with a VFD, a pump or fan speed can be controlled electrically to efficiently match the varying needs of a process. And that saves a lot of electricity.

Other common industrial energy efficiency projects include upgrades of compressed air systems, replacing lighting fixtures, and improved automation.

Regardless of the technology used, when the PUD works with industrial customers to save energy they reduce their operating costs. This helps them increase their global competitiveness, which helps retain local jobs.

The resulting energy savings has another benefit: it helps reduce the long-term need for the PUD to pursue more costly resources as energy demand grows. In the new era we have just entered, where our allocation of power from BPA (our cheapest source) is capped, the pursuit of energy efficiency to stretch our lowest-cost resource is even more crucial.

Editor's Note: This commentary, part of a yearlong series on energy conservation, was submitted by Doug Swier, a conservation engineer at Cowlitz PUD and director of the utility's industrial conservation program.

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