"Energy Efficiency is at the heart of energy affordability." Tony Earley, Chairman, CEO and President of PG&E Corporation

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Bakersfield: Raising Energy Efficiency, or How One Farmer Worked with PG&E to Save Money on His Bill

By Tracy Correa

BAKERSFIELD — Cattle rancher Paul Blackmer takes great pride in his simple nature and straightforward approach to business. Take the no-frills name of his business, for example: Paul’s Pride Black Angus Cattle.

The cowboy-hat-wearing farmer has 84 head of cattle – all grass fed – and tends to them primarily on his own. A veterinarian who grew up around cattle, he knows nearly everything about the 1,500- to 2,000-pound beasts and how to maintain the lush vegetation that keeps them happily fed.

Kern County farmer Paul Blackmer had 84 head of cattle and questions about his energy bill. (Photos by Tracy Correa.)

But the soft-spoken Blackmer didn’t understand the details of his PG&E energy bill — ditto for the programs that might save him money. And he will be the first to tell you, in a very polite manner, that he doesn’t have the patience to listen to someone with limited knowledge of his work and lifestyle explain such things over the telephone.

So, when he learned that PG&E was setting up office hours at the Kern County Farm Bureau this summer, he was one of the first to take advantage. Now, after meeting with PG&E staff, he feels he is on the right path to saving money and managing his usage.

“I felt I needed personalized attention,” said the 68-year-old Blackmer, who has already implemented several suggested changes designed to save him money.

Bringing the office to farm clients

The utility’s office hours at the Kern County Farm Bureau stemmed from discussions between bureau officials and PG&E’s Brenda Baldwin, a customer relationship manager, on ways to better reach the agricultural community.

Learn more about the California model for energy efficiency

Both the bureau and PG&E felt that farmers would benefit from knowing more about their energy usage and bills, said Ben McFarland, executive director of the Kern County Farm Bureau.

So, for the past few months, PG&E representatives have come with laptops in tow and set up inside the bureau’s Bakersfield office the second Thursday of the month. The bureau is promoting the service through email and its member newsletter distributed to about 1,500 members.

PG&E’s Brenda Baldwin works with farmers to help them save energy during her regular office hours at the Kern County Farm Bureau.

Being able to partner with PG&E has been good for the farm bureau “and a tangible benefit to our members,” said McFarland. And, the setting in the bureau makes it comfortable and familiar for farmers.

Blackmer got help when he met with PG&E’s Baldwin and Maggie Werner. Baldwin and Werner are customer relationship managers in PG&E’s energy solutions & service department in Kern County.

Baldwin learned more about the farmer’s modest 25-acre ranch on the outskirts of Bakersfield as well as the 17 additional acres of property across the street. And Blackmer explained the necessities of his business operation.

Blackmer spends roughly $15,000 to $16,000 a year on his utility bills; the largest amount of his energy consumption is linked to his field irrigation. He uses about 1 million gallons every three days, water that must be pumped from the ground.

And unlike most farm operations that have the option of switching to micro or drip irrigation – designed to save money and water — Blackmer relies on a sprinkler system to keep the green grass necessary to maintain his advertised “breeding bulls and grass-fed beef.”

Blackmer showed up at that first meeting with Baldwin and Werner with utility bills in hand and answers to questions about his energy usage. “I’m a stickler for details,” he said.

It was all good information, said Baldwin: “It helped us to understand what he was doing.”

Making changes to save money

Baldwin did an analysis of Blackmer’s energy usage. She suggested he move from one agricultural rate to another. Blackmer also was advised to change his watering schedule to later in the evening, during off-peak hours, which he has recently done.

Farmers also get information on rebates and incentives through the Advanced Pumping Efficiency Program (APEP) – a program designed to save money by improving pump efficiency — and other programs that can help PG&E’s agricultural customers. (Click here to see a Currents video about the APEP program.)

Paul Blackmer tracks his farm’s energy use online and has made changes to save energy and money.

Blackmer had his field pumps tested and discovered they weren’t running very efficiently; he expects to make repairs soon. And there are other changes: Now, for instance, he only does irrigation maintenance on weekends because the start and stop of the pumps is less costly during off-peak times.

The man who is quick to admit that he is “low-tech” is now a near-expert in tracking his energy usage online at PG&E’s My Energy page that lets him manage his account. “I love all the boxes and charts,” Blackmer said as he recently perused the site in his office.

Being able to see the spikes and falls of his usage allows him to better control his costs, he said. “I know the lowest rate starts at 9:30 p.m.” because it’s off-peak, he said. So, he has shifted his field irrigation to later at night.

He said his energy bill has already gone down and he has no doubt he will continue to save money. And, he has already suggested to other farmers that they too take advantage of the free assistance.

Blackmer sums up his experience this way: “What it did was made me a smarter consumer.”

Email Tracy Correa at tracy.correa@pge.com

This story originally appeared on pgecurrents.com.