Businesses catching on to wind power
Three Wheaton merchants buy into collective for possible savings, tax discounts
Three Wheaton business owners are using 50 percent wind energy to power their businesses after joining a buying collective with three Washington, D.C., businesses that will lock in their energy rates for the next several years and give them tax discounts on energy.
The Wheaton businesses — Speedy Signs, Interior Solutions Masterworks and James Mensah's State Farm Insurance — are the first businesses in the area to join a buying group to purchase wind power, said Emily Adelman, the director of the Local First Wheaton program, an alliance of local merchants.
The business owners worked with Clean Currents, a Rockville-based energy broker, to negotiate taking half of their energy off of the main power grid, called "brown energy," and replacing it with wind power provided by the Washington Gas Energy Solutions Inc.
Everyone in the buying group received a locked rate for three years, a good thing when energy prices ebb and flow daily with the cost of natural gas, said Ron Rodriguez, a business associate with Clean Currents who helped broker the deal.
The rate the businesses received is actually slightly lower than current energy prices, he said. And under the county's Clean Energy Rewards program, the businesses also receive a half-cent tax credit for each kilowatt per hour of clean energy used.
Adelman said the buying group showed that ordinary businesses can "go green."
"That takes being a green business' out of this boutique category and makes it successful for any business on the ground," she said.
Dave Taghipour, the owner of Speedy Signs at 11410 Georgia Ave., said when Adelman approached him about the idea of buying green energy, he didn't hesitate about the details.
"It was a natural step" to making his business more environmentally progressive, he said.
And the process turned out to be easier than everyone predicted, said James Mensah, the owner of State Farm Insurance, on 2521 University Blvd. West.
Mensah said having Local First Wheaton group businesses together eased some of the bureaucracy he would have to go through if buying wind power on his own.
"I read through the contract, signed it and faxed it back," Mensah said. "It was pretty hands-off."
The wind they're buying comes from wind farms along grids in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and sometimes as far away as Illinois and Texas, said Veronique Marier, the manager of the renewable energy and conservation programs at WGES.
Marier said although WGES can't guarantee that a group of wind-energy buyers will receive a better deal than a single business, a buying group does have its advantages.
The more energy that's grouped together — especially if it's a larger amount — the lower the rates usually are. And businesses cut down on transaction fees by buying it at once, she said.
Marier said each business signs its own contract so businesses aren't paying for each other's energy uses.
An example of a large buying group of wind is Montgomery County. Since 2004, the county has powered all of its county buildings and public schools with 10 percent wind power purchased from WGES and is looking to increase that to 15 percent, said Eric Coffman, the county's energy policy manager.
Coffman said the sheer volume of the county's energy needs allows him to negotiate with clean and brown energy suppliers for a good price.
"They're dealing with one entity, not 50 or 60 or 100," he said.
Over a three year period, buying clean energy has only cost the county several hundred thousand dollars, which Coffman said was paid for with the $14 million the county saved by negotiating for the best clean and brown energy possible as a collective.
Adelman said members of Local First Wheaton, an alliance of merchants working to sustain local business in Wheaton, had tried to initiate a wind power collective last fall, but had difficulty starting it as energy bills went up and sales went down.
According to WGES records, Belmont TV and a local doctor's office in Wheaton purchase wind power from WGES.
Now that the buying collective has shown purchasing wind power is economically viable, she hopes more businesses will start their own.
"The only way something like that is going to happen is if it's affordable and sustainable economically for players at many levels," she said.