As head of his family’s Ohio dairy farm, Lambert VanderMade is always looking for ways to keep his cows happy.
“If you have comfortable cows, they live longer and produce more milk,” he says.
Proper lighting and temperature are the key ingredients, so the barns are equipped with dozens of light fixtures and 200 large fans to keep the air below 67 degrees Fahrenheit. Any warmer than that and the cows will get heat stress, VanderMade says.
Now, thanks in part to an ambitious rebate program from North Western Electric Cooperative, VanderMade Dairy is keeping its costs down, its barns lit and its 1,500 cows cool and producing about 90 pounds of milk each per day.
The Sherwood-based farm received more than $15,000 from the co-op, among the largest dispersals ever from North Western’s commercial efficiency grant program. The initiative, which began in 2015, reimburses businesses for half the cost of approved lighting and equipment upgrades that make them more energy efficient.
VanderMade Dairy used the program to switch its barns to all-LED lighting and install larger, more efficient variable-speed fans. The farm is saving about $5,760 a year in energy costs from the lighting changes alone, the co-op estimates.
“These improvements were about due anyway, but the rebate program definitely made it a no-brainer,” VanderMade says. “If you can do more with less energy, that’s always going to be a good thing.”
So far, the 6,000-member co-op has paid out more than $75,000 to commercial members, says Tracey Carter, North Western EC’s director of human resources who is also in charge of the program. The co-op’s power supplier, Buckeye Power, has reimbursed North Western for more than half the cost of the rebates as part of its marketing program.
The biggest rebate of all—a total of $30,000—went to a public high school and elementary school that replaced their old lights with 1,400 LEDs.
The program is a win-win for everyone, Carter says. Commercial consumers save money on their electricity bill, and the co-op reduces peak demand, which helps keep rates down for all of its members.
“It helps everyone in the long run,” she says. “But it has to be looked at mainly as a member benefit, because you’re probably not going to save as much as you spend on the program. Honestly, it’s member relations. It’s another way to show that you are looking out for them.”
Most Ohio co-ops offer some type of energy efficiency rebates, but the details of each vary, Carter says. For anyone interested in beginning a program of their own, she has some tips to help smooth the way.
First, she says, set limits to make sure you can afford to pay the rebates. North Western has a total maximum rebate of $25,000 per customer for lighting improvements and $5,000 for equipment.
Rebates can’t exceed 50% of project costs, excluding labor.
“You don’t want to be in a situation where you’re putting more money in than the member is willing to invest,” she says.
Each year, the co-op’s board of directors sets an overall budget for the program, based in part on the maximum that Buckeye Power will reimburse.
To qualify for a rebate, commercial members must fill out an application and get the co-op’s approval in advance. Prequalification is important to spell out clearly what the expectations are for everyone involved.
“That’s where having a written agreement and filling out the form ahead of time comes in,” Carter says. “Organization is key.”
The arrangement has worked out well for the area’s Boy Scout council, which was able to get a rebate check for more than $3,400 after replacing several hundred fluorescent lights with LEDs at its Pioneer Scout Reservation camp. The change will save the Scouts nearly $5,000 a year in energy costs, the co-op estimates.
“We probably would have slowly replaced all of these lights, but the rebate was kind of a carrot to get us to do it all at once,” says Jeff Frastaci, camp ranger for the Boy Scouts of America Erie Shores Council in Pioneer, Ohio. “It’s really saved us a lot on our lighting bills. And whatever we save we reinvest back into the facility for improvements. It’s a big help.”