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

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How Lepe’s Foods Cut Energy Use to the Bone

By Jonathan Marshall

In Santa Rosa, the Lepe family is practically synonymous with food. If you suddenly crave a plate of carnitas, Lepe’s Taqueria will be happy to serve you. If you prefer to cook for yourself, you can buy the necessary ingredients at Lepe’s Tienda No. 2.

But if you’re hosting a big party and want to roast some legs of lamb to impress your guests, the critics on Yelp give high marks to Lepe’s Foods, a wholesale vendor to dozens of stores and restaurants, which also sells bulk meats directly to the public.

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By working with his PG&E rep on a variety of energy-saving measures and taking advantage of rebate programs, Marco Lepe was able to save money for his family-owned business in Santa Rosa.

Marco Lepe, who founded his food distribution business in 1991, comes from an entrepreneurial family that has put down roots in Northern California for more than 40 years. To keep his competitive, low-margin, business going through challenging economic times, he has had to work hard—often starting at the wee hours of the morning to service restaurants— and pay close attention to costs.

Learn more about the California model for energy efficiency

To help him succeed, Lepe relies on family members (one brother-in-law shows up to work at 1 a.m.) and friends in the business. But he also gives high marks to his PG&E customer relationship manager, who is in frequent touch by letter, phone, email and in person about new money- and energy-saving programs at the utility.

“PG&E has been awesome,” he says. “They’ve been of great help.”

Reducing the electric bill

With more than 12,000 square feet of refrigerated space and freezer facilities, Lepe’s Foods runs up a big electric bill every month. In fact, electricity ranks with wages and fuel as the company’s chief expenses, Lepe says.

Three years ago, his monthly energy bill averaged $3,400. Then, following tips from PG&E, he began taking modest steps to save energy. He applied tinted film to his windows to cut down on direct sun exposure, installed strip curtains for his drive-in refrigerator (with help from a $500 PG&E rebate), and educated his workers about the need to keep refrigerator doors closed and lights off when not in use.

With technical advice from PG&E he also installed cool, high-efficiency lighting to cut down on power bills and ease the strain on his refrigeration system.

Click here to stay informed about the California model for energy efficiency

But when a PG&E-approved energy consultant said he could save much more by upgrading to a high-efficiency refrigerator with variable-speed fans, Lepe admits he was skeptical. The big investment required, with an uncertain return, seemed too audacious in the middle of a slow economy.

Cool Biz saves money, energy

But his PG&E representative helped Lepe’s take advantage of the Cool Biz program, which helps small- and medium-sized businesses undertake comprehensive energy efficiency measures with their refrigeration. (PG&E contracts with KEMA Services, Inc. to manage the program.)

The program typically pays 75 percent of the total project cost—and sometimes more. Lepe’s Foods received an incentive worth $31,400, and was able to pay back the remaining cost in just over six months thanks to average energy savings of more than $1,000 a month.

Last but not least, Lepe’s PG&E representative investigated its rate options and found that he could save money by moving to time-of-use rates, which charge more during periods of high electric demand, like summer weekday afternoons, and less at other times. Lepe’s Foods didn’t have to change anything to save under the new rate plan, but by taking small steps like making sure to charge forklifts at night, during off-peak rates, its savings add up faster.

Marco Lepe doesn’t claim that every business should follow his lead and install high-efficiency fans or special lighting—but he does recommend that they consult the energy-efficiency experts at their local utility. “I would tell other small businesses to communicate with PG&E to see where they can save,” he says. “It helps tremendously.”

Click here for more information on the Lepe’s Foods success story.

Email Jonathan Marshall at jonathan.marshall@pge.com.

This story originally appeared on pgecurrents.com.