Of course, the situation for each business is different but considering renewable energy resources as part of a comprehensive disaster plan should also be part of the discussion.

Sun Shines on Disaster Planning

Wesley Astroth

Sun Shines on Disaster Planning
Of course, the situation for each business is different but considering renewable energy resources as part of a comprehensive disaster plan should also be part of the discussion.
Sun Shines on Disaster Planning
by Wesley Astroth

There has been much discussion lately about 'green building' practices and renewable energy gaining popularity in the St. Louis area and around the country. Few realize that renewable energy can play a role in disaster planning, too.

On the evening of Wednesday July 19, 2006 a severe thunderstorm swept through the St. Louis area. The straight line winds toppled trees knocking down power lines, damaging homes and businesses and causing numerous fires. At one point nearly 1 million people were without power. Many homes and businesses were without power up to eight days.

In the July 27, 2006 issue of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, an article entitled; "Will your business survive?" covered the most common features of disaster planning; assigning people to implement your plan; redirecting mail and phone calls; systematically arranging for the off-site storage of data back-ups, etc. These are critically important, especially if the disaster is a major one that ravages your building and infrastructure, like a devastating fire, tornado, earthquake, etc.

When you think about disasters in these terms, what happened on July 19, 2006 was relatively minor in comparison. Yet if your power went out, you were still 'out of business.' You couldn't answer the phones, use the computers, easily ship and receive products, or even turn on the lights.

What is the cost of that lost business? Business disruption can be merely inconvenient or devastating, depending on the size of business and length of outage. As stated in the Post-Dispatch article, "as many as 40 percent of small businesses do not reopen after major disasters such as floods, tornados or earthquakes, according to the Red Cross."

What about power outages?

During and after the recent power outages there were numerous news stories about businesses relocating to available space at other businesses or, in at least one case, to the basement in the owner's home so employees could use their computers and have access to telephones.

To mitigate these losses, more and more businesses are investing in backup generators to handle critical business functions during a power outage. About a year ago, Stuart Maue Group founder Dr. Harry Maue decided to spend just over $100,000 to purchase two generators for his St. Louis based legal auditing firm. By his estimation he recovered most of his investment in July.

According to Maue, his firm would lose over $66,000 on a daily basis in billable hours if the power goes out. And that's just for the professional staff of attorneys and accountants. When the storm hit July 19th they were only without power for 3 1/2 hours the morning of the 20th, but they never missed a beat. "Most of the staff wasn't even aware we had lost power," said Maue.

A business with dependable power delivery faces a situation where their generators sit idle 98% of the time or more generating a very low return on investment, basically becoming a non-performing asset. A nightmare situation develops when the expensive generators don't start or operate properly, as during the recent outage when three of St. Louis' Lambert International Airport's eight backup generators failed.

Any discussion of disaster planning should also include renewable energy resources. As part of a comprehensive disaster plan, installation of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels and/or wind turbines could reap an impressive Return on Investment. Not only can these technologies provide emergency power during an outage, they generate power every day, reducing on-going energy costs.

This is now reality, not science fiction. According to Anthony Tersol of Applied Solar Energy in Carmel, CA, "A citizens committee in the City of Pacific Grove, CA is currently considering installation of solar photovoltaic cells with attached battery array to support their local police and fire departments in the event of a power disruption. When the power goes out, you are not assured that a generator will work when called upon. Plus, if the outage lasts for long periods, how do you get large quantities of diesel fuel for the generators? The sun will always be there."

This technology is adaptable for all businesses. Travis Creswell of Ozark Energy Services of Joplin, MO has designed and installed wind turbines and solar PV and water heating panels for 15 years and says, "The idea is quite feasible. A renewable energy system can be connected to specific vital circuits to provide power to the most critical systems, like computers and phones, when there is an outage."

Properly designed, system costs can be recovered in a relatively short period of time. Businesses are eligible for a 30% Federal Tax credit on solar technology installations, equipment and labor, if placed in service by the end of 2007. Further, these investments qualify for accelerated depreciation over five years. Congress passed this tax incentive as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Besides the tax breaks, the business receives decreased daily energy costs.

Because it's good for the environment and good for the bottom line, more and more businesses are interested in the benefits of renewable energy sources.

Alberici Corporation is an international construction company headquartered in St. Louis, MO. The Alberici Corporate Headquarters receives nearly 20% of its electrical power requirements from their wind turbine.

Christy Cunningham-Saylor, Environmental Specialist at Vertegy, an Alberici Enterprise says, "The wind turbine, as well as all our other green initiatives, not only made good financial sense, they are important to show our customers and the community we care about the environment and are making a difference every day."

With the threat of ever increasing energy costs, renewable energy becomes more financially viable every day. Of course, the situation for each business is different but considering renewable energy resources as part of a comprehensive disaster plan should also be part of the discussion.

Wesley Astroth has spent over 30 years in various corporate marketing and sales positions. His interest in renewable energy has evolved over the past few years and became more focused earlier this year, and he is currently working on several opportunities in the renewable energy field. He can be reached via e-mail at wastroth@netscape.net.

 

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