With record setting heat continuing to pound the area, utility bills are on the rise, and local businesses owners and executives are keenly aware of the costs of cooling their operations.
"In the summertime, particularly when it is this hot, our electric bill for the hospital and the medical arts building can run as much as $100,000 per month," said Bob Bigley, CEO of East Georgia Regional Hospital in Statesboro. "We have a computerized energy management system which is always in operation, so we are trying to save as much energy as we possibly can, but it is very difficult to do that in a hospital setting. We don't have the option of just turning things off for a period of time."
Mike Motes, East Georgia Regional's director of plant operations, said the hospital uses a self-contained cool water system to provide air conditioning (as well as heating in the winter) to the hospital and medical arts building.
"We pump very cold water throughout the hospital," Motes said. "It leaves the plant at 48 degrees and returns at 58 degrees to be cooled again and circulated back through the hospital. When it is this hot, we lose a lot of water to evaporation. I would estimate 10,000 to 20,000 gallons a day which means our water costs can be sizable as well."
Georgia Southern University president Brooks Keel convened an Energy Task Force last fall to study and suggest ways the University could conserve energy and water. The Task Force completed their work and presented their findings to Keel last month.
"As a major university, Georgia Southern understands that we have a fiscal responsibility to incorporate energy-saving measures whenever possible," Keel said. "We also understand the importance of being good stewards of the environment and take great pride in our continuing efforts to conserve precious natural resources. The Energy Task Force has done a marvelous job in providing recommendations on how to make Georgia Southern much more energy efficient, and we are now exploring for ways to implement their recommendations"
This spring, Georgia Southern set up an e-mail address to simplify reporting water leaks and needed energy-related repairs. The University has begun to place signs in buildings reminding people of simple things they can do to conserve water and energy, and energy-saving tips were broadcast to campus through digital signs and University television in the week leading up to Earth Day.
Employees who feel their overhead lighting is too bright have also been given the opportunity to have some of the fluorescent bulbs removed, which would also conserve energy.
"We are looking at a number of ways to conserve," said Keel. "Some are simple, like making sure people know how to report a water leak that could waste thousands of gallons of water. Others, like the construction and design of buildings to maximize energy-efficiency are much more complex. But we believe each of those changes will play an important role in our long-term strategy to conserve for many years to come."
While large operations like East Georgia Regional and Georgia Southern employ sophisticated methods to reduce energy consumption, one local business is lowering its utility bills by simply turning down the lights.
"When you are a small restaurant like ours, energy bills can really hurt your bottom line," said Jack Slaten, owner of Moe's. "I have turned down the lights in the dining room, and the lights behind the grills in the kitchen area. It has made a definite difference, and no one seems to have noticed. It is so bright outside, and we get so much natural lighting in the restaurant, that it hasn't been a problem. But, it has lowered our air conditioning bill significantly."
Harvey's grocery stores in Statesboro also use low impact lighting to reduce their energy costs.
"The operation of a grocery store requires a tremendous amount of energy from lighting to refrigeration," said John Goodman, store manager of Harvey's on Fair Road. "Energy is such a large expense for us, that our company has a full-time energy task force that focuses on ways reduce energy consumption."
Goodman said most shoppers won't notice, but the freezer coolers in his Harvey's store have LED (light-emitting diode) lights inside. "They put out very little heat, and automatically dim when no one is on a freezer aisle," he said. "Motion detectors trigger the lights to come on when someone is walking down the aisle."
Bigley said ironically, during peak energy periods, Georgia Power will request that the hospital use its diesel generators for power, instead of electricity.
"When there is high demand, such as today when it will exceed 100 degrees or more, Georgia Power will ask us to run our generators so that the electricity that we would normally use, can be used elsewhere," he said. "That is an expensive way to operate, but we will, and have done that when asked."