Energy conservation is good business

MONTEVIDEO -- Just as the heating season got underway in earnest, Bill Pauling spotted a guy looking over the natural gas meter at his downtown, Montevideo grocery store with a quizzical look on his face.

Bill's Supermarket
Bill Pauling checks the thermostat at Bill's Supermarket in Montevideo. A heat exchange unit that captures waste heat from the store's refrigeration system is proving its worth by reducing the need to run a natural gas furnace. So much so, a utility company's meter reader came to see why usage was so low. Tribune photoby Tom Cherveny

MONTEVIDEO -- Just as the heating season got underway in earnest, Bill Pauling spotted a guy looking over the natural gas meter at his downtown, Montevideo grocery store with a quizzical look on his face.

"I couldn't figure out what the guy was doing,'' said Pauling, owner of Bill's Supermarket.

The man with the quizzical look was the meter reader sent out by Xcel Energy.

He couldn't figure out why the store's meter showed zero gas usage for the prior month. He was there to see why.

Pauling should have seen it coming. This was the second time in recent years that the store's natural gas supplier has sent a meter reader on a special visit.


Investments in energy conservation really do pay off, according to Pauling. There are entire months during the heating season when his 13,000-square-foot store is heated only with a heat exchange system. It captures "waste'' heat that was otherwise vented outside from the store's refrigeration and cooling equipment.

"We just capture BTU's that we would have normally thrown out the door,'' said the store owner.

The waste heat from the electrical equipment is now the primary source of heat for the store.

Natural gas is a back up or supplemental source. It is needed only when the outside temperature falls to 5 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, he said.

Eight years ago he invested in new refrigeration equipment for the store's frozen and perishable goods. The previous system was "held together by baling twine'' and needed replacement, said Pauling, laughing.

He obtained low interest financing -- 6 percent at the time -- through an energy conservation program offered by Xcel Energy to engineer the system.

It proved to be a true win-win situation. Pauling was also able to cut his electrical usage significantly by replacing the old system with more energy efficient compressors, and fewer of them.

Pauling said he spent much more -- roughly $50,000 -- to install the heat exchange system at the same time. To install the system, he turned to Dave Mitlyng of Mitlyng Electric and Refrigeration, whom he described as the "go to guy in the area if you want to get high efficiency equipment.''


He was told the system should pay for itself in about 10 years, and that seems about right, he said. He said his heating costs have dropped by anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000 a year.

The store owner has made energy conservation a priority. "Every time I do something I try to upgrade that as much as possible,'' he said.

When new roofing was needed, he installed a white membrane roof in place of black. The white membrane reflects sunlight and reduces his summer cooling needs, he said.

He's also added insulation and replaced the store's lighting system with modern, energy-efficient lamps. The old system had ballasts that he described as "boat anchors'' due to their large size and consequently, appetite for electricity.

The store's thermostat is also kept at an energy-wise 62 degrees during the winter. Pauling said customers are clad in winter coats and find the inside temperature comfortable.

The energy conservation improvements at the store have largely gone unnoticed by customers. Improvements like the recent addition of ergonomically designed check-out counters are the changes that attract attention, and that's how it should be, he said.

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