Society of St Vincent de Paul Shines a New Light
Executive Director Melanie Anguay at the Society's thrift store

Executive Director Melanie Anguay at the Society’s thrift store

The Society of St Vincent de Paul in Pittsburg needed help last year with their building’s lighting. Dark corners and inconsistent exterior lighting compromised the facility’s safety, and the lighting inside had been replaced haphazardly over the years, making for a hodge-podge of different lighting types and color temperatures throughout the building.

“For us, lights equal safety,” Executive Director Melanie Anguay explained. With children on site in the daytime shelter, it was especially important to illuminate every dark corner in the building, and strong exterior lighting was needed to ensure that community members felt safe coming to the site for services. The on-site free health clinic also needed better lights for the healthcare professionals to do their work in.

When the Society added 400 square feet and needed to outfit the new space with energy-efficient lighting, they decided to take this opportunity to retrofit all of the center’s lights. Yet the Society needed help executing a large-scale lighting project. “We don’t have a facilities manager,” Melanie explained, “so things like this are hard to implement on our own.” CESC’s SmartLights program came to the rescue and helped the Society complete the project from start to finish, with a project manager to count the lights and suggest replacements and create a report to show the projected cost and energy savings.

Initially, Melanie was skeptical that the SmartLights program was for real. “It seemed too good to be true,” she explained. However, after exploring our website and reading stories of people we’ve helped, Melanie decided to move forward with the lighting project.

Melanie with St Vincent de Paul staff under the new lights

Once the project was approved, SmartLights replaced 121 fixtures with efficient LEDs, improving the facility’s lighting and saving the nonprofit over $300 a month on energy bills. SmartLights also provided a rebate to offset the cost.

Melanie was impressed with the contractor’s commitment to providing lighting that met the Society’s needs; he “helped us find the right lighting for our building,” she said. Melanie was also impressed with the HVAC services she received. “[The contractor] was professional and explained things clearly. I don’t have any HVAC experience, but thanks to [the contractor’s] explanation I was able to understand the purpose of the equipment. He even let me watch him install the controller. That was a fun learning experience that I’ve never had the opportunity to do in the past!” From a cost standpoint, Melanie was able to present the detailed, readable SmartLights report to her board with the return-on-investment figures, or ROI, right on the front page.

Nurse treats patient in the brightly lit exam rooms

Nurse treats patient in the brightly lit exam rooms

Touring the St Vincent de Paul facilities, Melanie pointed out the many changes to their facility thanks to the new lights. The exterior of the building is now well lit, as are the medical examination rooms, the thrift store warehouse, the dining room, and the offices. “It’s nice to know that there are no dark corners,” she says. Melanie is happy she found us: “There are so few companies that provide this type of service. Your organization went above and beyond.”


New Year’s Resolution: Earthquake Home Safety

By Janet Stephens

Are you worried about your family’s safety during an earthquake? You’re not alone. Earlier this year, I was inspired by Martin Bond’s blog about the “big one” to start thinking about what more I could do to stay safe during an earthquake. Ten years ago, I had my home bolted and braced, and I added shear wall in two rooms, since we were renovating anyway. Those were the right things to do to reduce the risk of major damage to the home itself, but what about its contents–mainly, me, my husband, and our cats?

go-bucket-image-1I promised my husband I would set up an emergency survival kit with water, food, and some first aid supplies. That was three months ago, and I haven’t gotten started yet. Until today, that is. I knew that I needed to break the task of earthquake preparation into smaller chunks. So I downloaded a document called “Preparing the Home Activity Guide” from the City of Berkeley web site, which has eight different activities to make a home safer in a disaster.

The first activity I am going to tackle is #2, “Put a flashlight and a pair of shoes where each person sleeps.” We have several flashlights, and it will be easy to put a flashlight in the top drawer of my night stand. It’s a simple measure that will take me just a few minutes. I’m aiming to take one measure each day between now and the New Year.

I can also already check off activity #7, “Inspect your water heater.” I know that our heater is already strapped to the wall, a measure that was required during our home renovation.

I think the most difficult measure for me is going to be #6, “Remove falling hazards over beds and play areas.” I heard that falling hazards are the biggest cause of injury during an earthquake. We have eight-foot-tall bookshelves in several rooms, and I know they’re not attached to the wall. I’m a klutz with a hammer or screwdriver. Luckily, my husband is very handy, and he can help with this. But what about those families that lack a handy person?

bookshelf-safetyThe answer: Berkeley Seismic Safety services from Community Energy Services (CESC). A licensed contractor, CESC can provide you with all the services you need to make your home safe in an earthquake. A small grant from PG&E and the City of Berkeley’s Fire Department are helping CESC offer these services free to Berkeley households, whether they are renters or owners. “Preparing your home for an earthquake could prevent many injuries and should be a part of every household’s plan. Through the City’s Berkeley Ready program, we’re partnering with our community to look at potential hazards in the home and to mitigate those before an earthquake,” according to David Brannigan, Deputy Fire Chief.

The program includes a preliminary assessment; a “go bucket” or emergency kit containing a fire extinguisher, emergency rechargeable flashlight, an emergency radio, and other items, a strong educational component including educational materials, and seismic safety upgrades such as securing large furniture, book cases, water heaters, and picture frames and mirrors to the wall.

The program will be able to serve about ten households without charge. If you’re not among the first 10 households to qualify for free services, you can still pay a reasonable fee and have the security of knowing you’re hiring experts to help make your home safe.

And that earthquake survival kit I promised my husband? I don’t think that will take very long. According to the Preparing the Home Activity Guide, I already have most of the supplies on hand; I just need to gather them and put them in an old backpack or bucket. Some of the items are a surprise: copies of important documents, photocopies of prescriptions, an extra pair of eyeglasses. I’m glad I downloaded the document.

Want to know more about the Seismic Safety Services and how you can get help preparing? Contact CESC.

Embracing the Advanced Energy Economy

By Hank Love, CESC Board of Directors

hank-love-picI’m the Executive Director of the American Jobs Initiative, a nonprofit organization that runs the American Jobs Project at the Berkeley Energy and Climate Institute. The American Jobs Project works with states to identify strategies to create well-paying jobs in advanced energy industries for communities at risk, including those who face changing energy economies.

I first got involved with Community Energy Services Corporation (CESC) when I met Executive Director Martin Bond at an event at which Van Jones was speaking. We started a conversation and discovered that we had a lot in common professionally. At the time, I was assistant director of an organization in Michigan very similar to CESC in that it offered energy efficiency and health and safety programs for low-income residents. I kept touch with Martin, and we had a conversation quarterly to exchange ideas. I provided some to tools to help CESC with its strategic planning process and eventually joined the CESC Board of Directors.

American Jobs in the Advanced Energy Economy
With the American Jobs Initiative, our ultimate goal is to decrease the embodied energy in products, increase the efficiency of energy-producing and consuming technology, and produce cost-effective clean energy to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Yet our strategy for achieving this goal is to focus on job creation in new industries. It’s now more important than ever to take our economic, jobs-based approach towards reducing GHG emissions through innovation and efficiency. Examples of advanced energy industries include renewables, energy efficiency, advanced materials, carbon fibers, advanced ceramics, and 3D printing. The U.S. excels in efficiency and innovation and can compete in these industries, but it cannot compete on prior-generation manufacturing. Those jobs will likely never return.

Benefits of the Advanced Energy Economy
We’re already starting to see the benefits of the advanced energy economy. Right now there are more U.S. jobs in renewable energy than in coal. Compared to the total number of jobs in the entire extractive fossil fuel industry, the number of jobs in renewable energy is smaller, but we are on our way to surpassing fossil fuel. Once people catch on they will fight to keep those jobs, and coal jobs can peacefully recede. You don’t have to convince people that climate change is real to convince them to fight to keep their jobs in solar.

Energy Efficiency in the Advanced Energy Economy
In the advanced energy economy, energy efficiency permeates everything. For example, suppose you want to install solar power and electric storage for your home or business. If you first make your building as efficient as possible, you can purchase the smallest and least expensive system that’s right for your building. Achieving energy efficiency first brings solar installation costs down. This principle is something tangible that everybody can agree on.

Promoting energy efficiency is not controversial; in fact, all states have some kind of energy efficiency initiatives. California, though, is the testing grounds for innovation in this area. For example, California has set very high standards for the energy efficiency of buildings, some of the strictest in the country. Yet often the state doesn’t necessarily do everything right first; California tries ideas out first and shares lessons learned with other states. So in that sense the experience of California builders informs policy in other states. 

The Economics of Energy Efficiency
When retrofitting a building for energy efficiency, that is, making changes to an existing building, any proposal has to make economic sense to the consumer. The payback period is the time in which the efficiency project’s cost savings equal the cost of the installation. Typically, for an upgrade to appeal to a business, the payback period for a project must be 2-3 years or less, and for a home, the payback time must be 5-7 years or less. Unfortunately, in energy efficiency retrofits, much of the low-hanging fruit has already been picked—inexpensive improvements that achieve great savings, such as installing new light bulbs. That means that in many cases, the payback time is much greater. This constraint forces innovation, which is one of the drivers of the advanced energy economy.

hank-love-pull-quoteThe Role of Nonprofits in Energy Efficiency
It’s incredibly important that nonprofit organizations like CESC exist. There are multinational corporations that run energy efficiency programs–but corporations have a profit motive. Nonprofits have a mission. I think it was Bill Clinton who said, “a nonprofit’s job is to put themselves out of business,” that is, to fix the problem. But it’s not just about what you do to get the job done, it’s also about how you do the job. Although doing things in a cost-effective way is important, the goal is not to squeeze out every nickel and spend the minimum time on doing it. It’s important to take time with people, to make sure they understand the measures you’re installing to make their home efficient. This is how CESC does its business. CESC gets a lot of compliments on its employees and on the care they take with clients. CESC is really a social enterprise, and I’m proud to be a director.

Are you interested in finding out how CESC can help your home or businesses?
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