How Children’s Recovery Center Stretched its Energy Dollars

By Jonathan Marshall

It’s a cliché but true: Successful organizations are those that discover how to benefit from change. Children’s Recovery Center (CRC), an acute care medical facility for technology-dependent infants and children in Campbell in Santa Clara County, discovered how easy it was to work with PG&E to turn a state-mandated new electric rate plan into a valuable savings opportunity.

Donna Walker worked with her staff at the Children's Recovery Center to rearrange schedules to take advantage of lower off-peak electric rates.

CRC can’t afford any costly distractions from its vital mission of helping children with life-threatening conditions and their families cope with long-term dependence on respirators and other equipment. As the only facility of its kind in Northern California, CRC is “more than a hospital,” says CEO Mike Zarcone; “we strive to create an environment where children can thrive, recreate, and continue to stay connected with the community, all of which are essential to the healing process.”

But like all other small- and medium-sized PG&E business customers, CRC was required by state regulators to transition to time-of-use pricing, with electric rates that vary depending on when they use energy. On weekday afternoons from noon to 6 p.m., May through October, customers pay slightly higher rates, in exchange for lower rates at other times.

All of PG&E’s small and medium business customers will move onto time-of use rates over the next several years. The purpose is to better align prices with the real cost of generating electricity at various times of the day, in order to help lower energy bills, make power more reliable, and lower greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the need to run fossil-fueled power plants.

CRC’s Director of Patient Care Services, Donna Walker, and its Maintenance Supervisor, Doug Stephens, were concerned that the new rates might squeeze the center’s already strained budget. But when they reached out to the utility’s Business Customer Service Center for help, PG&E representative Crystal Jewell showed them that the new rates actually offered a way to save money.

By running the facility’s commercial-sized washer and dryer in the evening, rather than during peak afternoon hours, CRC was able to take advantage of lower off-peak rates. Donna Walker worked with her staff to rearrange schedules to help implement that solution.

CRC’s consultation with PG&E also proved a valuable opportunity to learn more about money-saving energy-efficiency programs. Acting on advice from Jewell, the center swapped out four older T12 40-watt light fixtures for two modern T8 32-watt fixtures with more efficient ballasts, saving well over half their lighting load and eliminating the annoying fluorescent hum.

PG&E also arranged for energy consultants from PECI to tune up the center’s HVAC system at no cost.

Bottom line: Thanks to almost $9,000 in rebates and incentives, these energy upgrades cost CRC nothing. And the center saved $5,600 on energy in the first year after making the changes.

Plenty of other PG&E business customers are also finding easy ways to trim energy use during peak hours to save money with efficient upgrades and time-of-use rates.

Abateco, a Central Valley asbestos abatement firm, makes sure to turn off all unneeded lighting in conference rooms, storage areas and other spaces during peak hours. And Union Cemetery and Crematorium in Bakersfield now runs its well pump and sprinklers only in the evening and at night and reduces air conditioning, lighting, and computer use during some peak hours.

Small- and medium-sized businesses can find a host of bill-lowering tools, as well as more explanation of time-of-use rates, on PG&E’s web site. And as Donna Walker now advises customers, “Pick up the phone and call. . . . The [PG&E] partnership is wonderful. Saves the grid energy. Saves us money. . . . Everybody benefits at the end of the day.”

Email Jonathan Marshall at Jonathan.Marshall@pge.com.

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