City, Westar to partner on downtown Lawrence project to cut energy usage

As holiday shoppers amp up the energy level of downtown Lawrence, city leaders are launching a program they hope will cut down on the energy use inside downtown shops and offices.

The city is partnering with Westar Energy, Downtown Lawrence Inc. and the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce to create a pilot program aimed at getting downtown businesses and building owners to make energy-efficienct improvements to their properties.

“Our people often can provide some really simple solutions that allow businesses to reap some really big benefits,” said Kim Gronniger, manager of consumer services for Westar Energy, the city’s electric utility.

The program — dubbed the Green Business Leaders Program — seeks to sign up about a dozen businesses from the downtown area that are looking for ways to reduce their energy usage.

Topeka-based Westar will provide the selected businesses with a free energy audit that reviews everything from heating and cooling units to lighting systems and the company’s operational practices.

“The goal is to produce a set of recommendations that are very specific to your building,” said Eileen Horn, the sustainability coordinator for Lawrence and Douglas County.

Businesses selected for the program are expected to undertake at least one of the recommendations that come out of the energy audit.

Those improvements could include items such as installing more energy-efficient lighting, upgrading heating and cooling systems or items that are a bit less complex, like installing a programmable thermostat or simply shutting the front door more often.

“A lot of shops open their front door during the middle of the summer to attract people in, but that is a lot of cold air that is escaping the building,” Horn said.

Businesses that participate in the program will be labeled a “Green Business Leader” and will be given a window decal and receive other recognition organized by the city.

In addition to the energy audit, participants will get free registration in a class put on by Westar and others related to energy efficiency.

Gronniger said the businesses also will get special training on how to use Westar’s online dashboard program, which became available to businesses and residential customers as part of a citywide Westar project to install “smart meters.” The dashboard allows users to see their energy usage in 15-minute increments, which can be particularly useful for businesses, she said.

Horn said she hopes the Green Business Leaders Program expands to other areas of the city in future years, and eventually will become a project similar to the chamber’s Leadership Lawrence program.

“I hope it ultimately creates a network of people who get together and share best practices on energy usage,” Horn said.

Horn said project leaders are looking for a variety of businesses for the inaugural program: restaurants, retailers, office users, bars and others.

Any downtown business interested in applying can do so at Businesses are expected to be selected by the end of December, with energy audits and classes beginning in February or March.