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Sat, Feb. 22

UES offers light stimulus package
Energy company hopes federal dollars will aid rebate program

KINGMAN - The economy has given nearly everyone a reason to frown lately, but the local electric company is looking for ways to brighten its customers' days by lowering their energy bills, with a little help from the recently passed stimulus bill.

While implementation of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is still very much in its infancy, the act itself has attracted much attention from Kingman's primary energy provider, UniSource Energy Services. That's because the stimulus promises more than $37.5 billion in energy infrastructure and efficiency investments, of which UniSource hopes to receive some small part.

Over the last several weeks, the company has been carefully following the stimulus' energy provisions, looking for opportunities to help relieve local energy costs amidst the pain of recession. And while eligibility details and other such potential roadblocks have yet to be revealed, UniSource is already getting a few ideas.

"We have a number of energy saving programs that would benefit from additional funding that may be available through the stimulus package," said UniSource's corporate communications director Joe Salkowski. "We currently have a team poring through the legislation and looking for opportunities that might benefit our customers."

Such opportunities include the Energy Star lighting program launched in late January. Designed to encourage the use of energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), the program offers the bulbs for up to 50 percent off at participating hardware stores throughout Kingman, Lake Havasu City and Nogales.

"We negotiate with CFL manufacturers to provide discounted bulbs, to make discounted bulbs available in local stores," Salkowski said. "(Customers) don't need to do anything other than go to the store. We pay the manufacturers to sell them cheaper."

Salkowski said each CFL can save a customer up to $30 in energy savings over the life of the bulb. And that life is long indeed - the average CFL lasts up to 10 times longer than a standard incandescent bulb, while consuming approximately 75 percent less electricity. That fact wasn't lost on customers of UniSource's sister company, Tucson Electric Power, which launched a similar discount program in 2008.

"Essentially we ran out of discount bulbs in Tucson, and we expect to do the same this year," Salkowski said. "It was so successful that stores ran through an allocation of CFL lights that was supposed to last them several months after only several weeks."

While the program has proven a rousing success, Salkowski said it supplies 15,000 bulbs for the whole year. Lack of funding prevents UniSource from providing more once stores are cleaned out, and with customers able to buy up to 10 bulbs at a time for as little as 99 cents apiece, Mohave County's program may very well prove a repeat of Tucson's.

But with the stimulus set to put $6.3 billion into energy efficiency and conservation grants, Salkowski is hopeful the program may soon get a fresh injection of capital.

"We're making as many bulbs as we can available," he said. "With money from the stimulus package, we could expand that program to include more bulbs."

Stimulus funds might also help UniSource expand another program that provides rebates to small businesses that purchase energy efficient upgrades.

UniSource currently pays part of the cost of upgrades such as HVAC heating and cooling equipment, energy efficient refrigeration controls for commercial coolers and energy efficient lighting.

"These rebates are set at an amount and again, we have limited funding for the program and it doesn't cover the entire cost of the upgrade," Salkowski said.

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