The state is pushing energy efficiency as a way to reduce utility bills and harmful emissions contributing to global climate change, but few have embraced the cause as ardently as New Jersey’s fiscally strapped hospitals.
But these initiatives are only happening with a helping hand from the state’s largest gas and electric utility.
Take Trinitas Regional Medical Center, for example, a nonprofit hospital in Elizabeth with two campuses. It recently completed $3.7 million in energy efficiency upgrades to its facilities that will save it $390,000 annually and about $7.8 million over the 20-year lifespan of the new equipment.
The project was developed through a larger program developed by Public Service Electric & Gas, which will part with $129 million to help 32 hospitals throughout the state better manage their energy consumption. It is a hugely popular program.
PSE&G has completed projects at 22 hospitals, with work continuing at 10 more facilities. “We have 20 other hospitals on the waiting list right now — we plan to file for additional funding later this year,’’ according to Fran Sullivan a spokesman for the utility.
At Trinitas, improvements were made in updating heating and water cooling systems as well as installation of state-of-the-art lighting and energy management technologies.
“It was something we were unable to do otherwise,’’ said Bill Stranahan, director of facilities management at Trinitas, referring to the PSE&G initiative. “We would have to come up with nearly $4 million to do this. We’re extremely happy with the whole project.’’
Under the PSE&G program, the utility provides an investment-grade audit at no cost to the hospital. It then proposes various cost-effective energy conservation measures that will yield substantial improvements in the hospital’s efficient use of energy with a payback period of less than 15 years.
The program reduces the financial burden on a hospital by providing upfront funding for the total cost of the project. The hospital then pays back a portion of the total project cost after it is complete through its PSE&G bill at zero percent interest over 36 months.
“Hospitals tend to anchor communities, and they are a vital resource for the residents they serve,’’ said Joe Forline, vice president of customer solutions for the utility. “Our hospital efficiency program is helping these institutions save money on their utility bills, which frees up resources they can better use for their core healthcare mission.’’
Doug Harris, a spokesman for the medical center, agreed. He said there always is a need to invest in new medical equipment because of rapid changes in technology in the healthcare field.
The state hopes to reduce energy consumption in New Jersey as part of its Energy Master Plan, but some question how successful the effort will be, considering the drop in clean energy funding allocated to the effort.
That decrease has spurred some environmental groups to lobby for a new law that would require utilities to reduce how much gas and electricity they deliver to customers annually.
“They’re playing around the edges,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, who praised the hospital efficiency program. “But they are not going to get us where we need to go unless they adopt a standard for energy efficiency.’’
The issue is a contentious one in the Legislature. Various bills to promote an energy efficiency standard have been debated by lawmakers but have yet to be enacted into law.
PSE&G’s hospital efficiency program is unique, according to the Newark utility. There are just four utility efficiency programs in the U.S. that target hospitals. PSE&G’s program is the only one in which the utility bears all of the upfront capital costs.