Wicked Winter Justifies Efficiency Upgrades
Severe winter weather this year has hit credit unions hard with higher energy costs.
However, the cooperatives can save significantly on energy costs by making wise investments in efficiency, said Melissa Malkin-Weber, sustainability director for the $646 million Self-Help Credit Union & Ventures Fund, both based in Durham, N.C.
“With rising energy prices and the environmental impact of using natural resources, we’ve been taking a broader, more systemic approach and looking for the best opportunities to conserve,” Malkin-Weber said.
In 2012, Self-Help implemented green facility initiatives that it predicts will save approximately $92,000 each year, she said.
One key to getting the most bang for the buck with energy efficiency initiatives is to work closely with contractors to pinpoint upgrades that benefit the long-term bottom line, Malkin-Weber said.
For instance, when Self-Help needed to replace the chiller unit on the roof of its headquarters, the credit union requested three price quotes from the contractor.
“Instead of just going with the least expensive replacement, we told the contractor to provide quotes for the good, better and best options, along with finding out what types of rebates we would qualify for from Duke Energy,” Malkin-Weber said. “As a result, we now have a more efficient unit with about a three-year payback.”
Self-Help also requested three price quotes to replace 46 lights in the headquarters’ training room. The credit union selected LED lights because they kept the room cooler on warm days, conserved additional energy and resulted again in a three-year payback.
“We do a lot of analysis about the cost benefit before deciding on any energy efficiency projects,” Malkin-Weber said. “That strategic approach is paying off with lower energy costs and less environmental impact.”
One of the industry’s latest green buildings comes from the $619 million Vermont State Employees Credit Union, which opened the new branch in February. By incorporating green features such as an energy efficient roof system, the Montpelier, Vt.-based VSECU estimated energy consumption for the new branch will be 39% less than a similar-sized building, said Laurie Fielder, program director for the credit union’s VGreen program, which provides energy efficient financing for members.
“With the long, brutal winter that has hit Vermont, along with many other areas of the U.S., we’re fortunate to have the support of the VSECU board and management to implement efficiency investments and initiatives for the benefit of the credit union and our members,” Fielder said.
Plans are in place for VSECU to seek Energy STAR certification for its new St. Johnsbury, Vt.-based branch and for another branch in Waterbury that was renovated to be more efficient after sustaining damage from Hurricane Irene in 2011.
“While we are a growing organization, we recognize that building more branches uses more resources; so we build all new branches to meet high efficiency standards,” Fielder added.
One of the easiest methods for credit unions to track and assess energy use is with the Energy Star Portfolio Manager, according to a new Filene Report, “Improving Social and Environmental Sustainability: A Credit Union Assessment and Comparison.”
By using the free Energy Star tool, credit unions can monitor an entire portfolio of buildings, identify underperforming buildings, verify efficiency improvements and receive recognition from the Environmental Protection Agency for superior energy performance.
The Filene report also recommended that credit unions consider the benefits of installing Energy Star appliances, automatic sleep modes, after-hour timers, LED bulbs, occupancy sensors, daylight dimmers, task lighting, programmable thermostats, timers, occupancy sensors and double-paned windows.