How a new energy efficiency model may change the game for recreation centers.
Across the country, nonprofit recreation centers are continually being asked to do more for the members and communities they serve, even as utility costs rise and donations dwindle. Members and managers are also increasingly aware of sustainability issues, and they’re eager to take steps toward going green. Keeping vital programs and other member services funded is always a challenge, and the rising costs of lighting, heating and cooling a big facility — let alone shrinking its carbon footprint — stretch budgets even thinner.
The problem isn’t that struggling centers don’t know how to save energy. It’s no secret technologies like LED lighting, smart meters and top-performing HVAC systems can cut energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, and pay for themselves over time. But first, they need to be paid for with your budget dollars. Major upgrades can take several years of painful budget allocations to fund. While you wait, energy and money that could be going toward member services is wasted, straining membership and budgets even further.
Recently, a promising way to break this downward spiral has emerged as a new category of companies has entered the market. The model these companies offer clients is called Energy Efficiency as a Service (EEaaS), and many of its features and benefits make it an appealing option for rec centers.
EEaaS models vary slightly, but in general, the vendor assumes the initial investment of installing new lighting, HVAC units and other upgrades, as well as providing ongoing energy management and streamlined billing. Many EEaaS companies replace the facility’s typical utility bill managing all energy use activity with a combination of automated controls and human analysis. In addition to this dramatically increased efficiency, the ongoing scrutiny of data can even detect and alert facility executives to other operational problems like water leakage, or improperly functioning hardware that can be fixed before it requires expensive replacement.
Rather than billing any of these expenses to their clients, EEaaS companies recoup their costs for all hardware and services through a portion of the savings they have created. The result is their client gets superior lighting, climate control and increased energy efficiency without seeing any increase in their monthly spending. This reduction in energy use naturally creates a smaller carbon footprint for the facility, making a potentially expensive goal cost virtually nothing.
Managers should thoroughly vet any potential EEaaS partner and carefully review all terms, obligations and guarantees of any contract. Talking with like-minded leaders at other facilities who have tried this approach will be a better gauge of its prospects for you than any sales pitch, and a growing number of centers across the country are contracting with EEaaS companies.
For example, the CEO of the YMCA of Southwest Kansas recently had this to say about his organization’s EEaaS experience.
“For the capital investment, we would have been doing this for 10 to 12 years to do what the EEaaS company did for us in a matter of three weeks. It was a no-brainer for my committee because we had nothing to lose. The company came up with the capital investment and it was a huge benefit to have the money put upfront for us to make a difference in our facility, for our members — and most importantly — get the energy savings on the HVAC equipment so it was not running at full capacity all the time.”
Much more than just a promise or a potential solution to consider “someday,” EEaaS is a very real option available right now. With the right partner and the right contract terms, what initially seems too good to be true can actually be the win-win that many struggling rec centers need.