Utility Consultants – How to Choose One

You are a manufacturing company that spends several thousand dollars per month on utility costs and would like to know if you are getting a fair deal from your utility providers. Each month you get your statement of charges that are often so complicated that after very little scrutiny you surrender to the unavoidable facts that you are helpless in determining whether the charges are valid and that you must pay. In the back of your mind you have always wondered if erroneous charges do exist and if so, are they widespread? Believe it or not, you are among the vast majority of utility customers who repeat this episodic ritual every month. Utility Consultants have popped up everywhere as a direct result of the need for guidance on this issue. For the most part, they have mastered the art of cutting through the convoluted mess of the common utility bill. Following are some guidelines to follow in choosing utility consultants.

What Type of Consultant Do You Need?

Utility Consultants come in many shapes and sizes each with their own specialty. If you are a fairly big energy user, you will probably want to engage the services of each kind in their own due time. The different types of companies include a bill auditing, facilities auditing, power consulting, and for large natural gas users a gas marketing. Regardless of your company’s size and energy use, you should start with a standard utility bill auditing company. These companies can verify that your charges and usage patterns are consistent with what they should be given your company’s equipment, operation, and industry. For example, a large printer’s power usage should exhibit large kWhs and relatively low demands, whereas a large cement plant should exhibit the exact opposite.

Another reason to engage the bill auditing company first is that before you can lower the amount of energy used, it is good to verify that you are actually using the energy stated on the bill. More than once a bill has been found to contain erroneous charges. A water bill that one company is paying might actually be the usage of two or more buildings or meters. A gas bill that reads 1000 dekatherms used might actually have been programmed with the wrong multiplier and so actually only used half that. A no-cost rate schedule change for one big power meter might eliminate the need for very costly power factor correction equipment. These are just a few examples of why the bill audit should be first. Most bill auditing companies work on a performance basis and so only get paid if they find you a savings. This type of pay plan can be beneficial especially when working with a tight budget.

The Right Company Can Save You Money

Now that we have established what the different utility consultants do, establishing a strategic plan to engage each type will likely save you money. After the bill audit is complete, the facilities audit is in order. These audits will calculate where your energy ‘hot spots’ are, these are the areas where the bulk of your usage lies. You should go after these first. For a large building with lots of lights a lighting retrofit analysis is a good start. This type of study will put at your fingertips the costs and benefits of changing out your lights for more efficient lighting.

For a company with large motors, power factor penalties can be pervasive; hence, an analysis of power factor limiting equipment, like capacitors might be the answer. Facility audit typically call for capital investments to implement and so must be weighed against budget limitations. In short, each utility consultant has its place and should be dealt with in proper order. In choosing a utility consultant, you should use those that have been in business for at least five years and have a good list of references, particularly in your industry. In the end, the right consultants should be able to save your company a fair amount of money.