AUBURN – Businesses already grappling with higher gas and oil costs are girding for yet another energy hit as new electricity rates take effect this month.

Increases between 25 and 30 percent for industrial users were approved by the PUC this summer. For industrial customer P&G Tambrands, the spike translates to about $1.5 million more to run the Hotel Road plant.

“We’ve already done a lot of work on doing more with less, so that will be a $1.5 million hit to the bottom line,” Rick Malinowski, human resources manager. “We compete on a global stage with facilities in Hungary, the Ukraine, Missouri and elsewhere. We have to find a way to overcome that (hit to the bottom line) or we become vulnerable to competitors.”

Chip Morrison, president of the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce, said he’s been hearing a lot of grousing about the increase from members.

“They’re not happy about it; they feel like it’s piling on,” said Morrison. The electricity spike follows dramatic increases in gas, diesel and fuel oil costs.

In response, the chamber is organizing an energy conference for Wednesday, Oct. 15 at Bates College dining facility. It’s entitled “Surviving the Energy Crisis, How You Can Save $$$” and promises to offer practical advice on how large and small companies can shrink energy costs.

Three educational sessions are planned on retrofitting buildings, financing energy improvements and tracking energy use. Throughout the day, participants can sign up for individual consultations with Efficiency Maine, the state-backed program that helps businesses identify and pay for energy conservation upgrades.

The 4-year-old program is on a pace to break all its previous first-quarter records, said Fred Bever, spokesman for Efficiency Maine. The program works by doing energy audits and assessments on commercial electricity customers, then identifying ways to cut their consumption.

Efficiency Maine pays up to $100,000 per business per calendar year to offset the cost of buying and installing energy-efficient equipment. In 2007, the program completed 669 business projects and spent $2.8 million in incentives, saving almost 33,000 megawatt hours.

This year, it’s drawing a lot more interest.

Bever noted that two rebate programs for solar/thermal and photovoltaic energy systems have been funded at $500,000.

“For the first two years, we rolled money over,” said Bever. “But between January and June of this year, all funds through 2009 have been reserved. We’ll open the program again in January, but you can see how interest has increased.”

Bever said for every $1 spent on making energy improvements through the program, a business stands to save $4.56.

“The cost/benefit ratio has been steadily improving,” he said.

Morrison said having the individual Efficiency Maine consultations will give businesses some concrete help in reducing their energy costs.

“Wringing hands is the first step, but you need to go beyond that,” he said.

The conference kicks off at 7:30 a.m. with a networking breakfast, followed by a keynote address by Laurie Lachance, executive director of the Maine Development Foundation. Information about the energy conference is available at www.androscoggincounty.com.


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