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Diversity helps energy firms and customers

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Over the past decade, the market for energy in our region has evolved dramatically. The cost of various commodities has shifted, deregulation has opened markets to new providers, and energy users have gained access to new tools and options that help them manage costs.

In this rapidly changing environment, the Jerome H. Rhoads companies, which I oversee, have also undergone a transformation. Our experience of diversifying our product lines and expanding our footprint over the past several years has taught us lessons about our market that are worth sharing with small and mid-size businesses in Central Pennsylvania.

As we diversified, we applied many lessons we learned to our own energy consumption practices: undergoing comprehensive review of our energy use, managing our fleet fueling costs, installing energy-efficient radiant floor heating in our headquarters and upgrading to the most energy-efficient equipment available whenever possible.

As we broadened our energy programs, our team also wound up speaking with a much wider range of commercial customers. What we discovered during these conversations, and during our internal energy review, taught us a lot about how small and mid-size businesses view energy usage. A few practical suggestions worth considering:

Take the first step

The majority of large, industrial energy users engage in energy shopping and conservation. But, as the Central Penn Business Journal itself reported, only 39.9 percent of commercial users (small and medium-size businesses) have switched electricity providers. And even those that have made a switch on electricity may not have explored other aspects of cost reduction.

In fact, the Rhoads team encounters many businesses that still have not explored provider alternatives or undertaken a comprehensive look at their energy consumption. They either think they don't have time, or they don't believe the savings will justify the effort.

Today, any company, regardless of size, should carve out time to engage in an energy review. Consider it a cost-savings exercise that yields bottom-line results.

Look at all energy options

Deregulation opened the market for electricity many years ago. But some commercial users neglect to evaluate every aspect of their energy usage: natural-gas usage, fleet fueling, conservation, age and type of HVAC equipment, lighting and more. Taking a broader view can yield more savings and help chart a course for long-term decisions. It can also help companies identify future equipment needs or emerging challenges.

Make strategic decisions

Every company wants to cut its energy bill, but some may have more nuanced goals: price stability, conservation techniques or even embracing innovations like geothermal that offer a longer-term ROI. By establishing goals and basing decisions on data, a company can begin to craft a plan that fits its situation. Also, talk to a few potential partners and learn about the programs and options available in our marketplace. At Rhoads, we tend to operate as an advocate for the customer, even if it means directing a customer to energy options or programs that we may not offer.

During the next several years, migrating to new providers and reviewing energy costs will become a regular aspect of operations for more small and mid-size companies as they recognize the benefits. Our hope is that this becomes just one aspect of a more comprehensive program that commercial energy users will adopt.

Today, there's little doubt that deregulation in Pennsylvania's marketplace and the resulting diversification among providers has created competition that benefits commercial users. In addition, with more regional companies, like Rhoads, offering a diverse range of energy solutions, commercial users have access to new resources and programs that can help them drive down costs and better manage their overall energy consumption.

Michael DeBerdine III is president and CEO of Rhoads Energy, a Lancaster-based provider that serves commercial and residential customers. For information, visit www.RhoadsEnergy.com.

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@cpbj.com

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