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TAP 32 | Energy For Business

 

When cutting costs, people usually don’t think of utilities since it is the lifeblood of any establishment. But what if there was a way for you to save money for your business just by looking into your energy consumption? Today’s guest Matthew Holland is the Vice President of Business Development at Reflective Energy Solutions. They work tirelessly to help clients manage their energy expenses and ultimately save money by analyzing their usage, comparing competing providers, auditing their bills for savings and suggesting technological improvements. In this episode, Matthew joins Brian Powers to weigh in on how you should be looking into energy costs and discuss the different cost-saving energy options for your business. Tune in to get money-saving and sustainable advice for your business!

Listen to the podcast here:

Matthew Holland On Cost-Saving Energy Options For Your Business

Welcome, Matt Holland. It’s good to have you here with our webinar series. Matt, tell us a little bit about what you do and the company you represent.

Thank you so much for having me. My name is Matt Holland, Mechanical Engineer from Drexel University in Philly. I am the Vice President of Business Development for Reflective Energy Solutions. We are an energy consulting firm. Our job is plain and simple. It’s to help our customers and clients save money and better manage their energy expenses. We do that through a variety of ways, which I will get into more detail throughout this session.

Before the pandemic hit, it was smart to look at your energy spend and see where you could identify efficiencies. Now, even more, it has greater importance. That was the driving force behind doing this on-demand webinars series. It was to get to connect with folks like you to say, “How can we bring our businesses back and also identify ways to save money?” This is another one of those folks. We talked about the BDO Alliance, connecting with guys like Matt. Reflective Energy Solutions is another benefit of the Alliance. These guys were both parts of the BDO Alliance. Matt and his company are part of the Business Resource Network. You’ll see a bunch of those folks in this webinar series, but that’s the connection there. It’s good company and I know you put together a deck. Let’s take a look at that.

Thank you. Let’s do it.

Energy is a top five expense but a bottom five focus. Click To Tweet

As I said, you put together a deck for us to take a look at and some of the things you’re going to identify understanding energy needs. Maybe some solutions that you guys can provide. I know you had some case studies too. Let’s take a look.

Let me give a quick background. Reflective Energy Solutions, as I mentioned, is an energy consulting firm headquartered in Hackensack, New Jersey, about ten minutes from Manhattan. We were started by our President, Eric Zimmerman, who used to run the New York Sales Office for Constellation New Energy, which is the largest third-party supplier or energy firm in the country. They’re a subsidiary of Exelon, which is a $34 billion company. He started Reflective to act on behalf of the clients. At his time at Constellation, he couldn’t always look at them in the face and say, “We can get you the best price for your natural gas or electric supply.” He started Reflective, again to have the customer in mind and be able to use multiple sources to obtain great rates in both gas and electric for our customers. That’s how we started.

About a few years ago, we started what we call our ancillary solutions, which is things like solar, cogeneration, lighting and a bunch of different energy solutions to help people save money and manage their energy expense. We have offices across the country. We are a national firm, meaning we have customers all over the United States. We have offices in Texas, Ohio and, of course, here in the Northeast in New Jersey and New York. Again, we have customers all over Florida, California, Chicago, the Midwest, Maine, Colorado. Basically, we wanted to show that we do have a national footprint coast-to-coast. As I mentioned, we’re an independent consultancy. We are vendor agnostic, meaning the only thing that we truly care about is what’s best for our customers. On the procurement side, which is helping people save money on commodity expenses is a very simple process.

We get bills and send those out to our arsenal of suppliers in the hopes of getting a rate that will be cheaper than your utility. One of the great things about Reflective and what sets us apart is we are honest to a full. Meaning, if any of our solutions are not the right financial decision for our customer, we tell them to stay put or remain status quo and how they’re using or managing their energy. For example, if you send us your New Jersey bills and send those out to see if we can beat the local utility rates. If we can’t because of the market fluctuates, the commodities are traded on the stock market every day. If we can help, we’ll certainly say, “Stay put and we’ll monitor the market and come back to you at a more appropriate time when it does make sense.” This slide is simply saying, “Everybody uses energy.”

If we were in a face-to-face meeting and I asked everybody to raise their hands who uses energy and thinks they spend too much for energy, everybody would be raising their hands. People spend millions, even billions of dollars on energy every year, depending on the size of the facility. Like at your house, nobody focuses on it. You get your bill, pay your bill, and wait for your next bill next month. That’s typically how it goes, even in businesses.

We’re here to monitor that and help companies that don’t necessarily have the bandwidth or the manpower to focus on those expenses to reduce them because it’s not in their core business. If you’re a huge office building and using a lot of janitorial supplies sometimes, you’ll focus on getting the best rates for cleaning supplies or trash bags. Again, because it’s ingrained in our human nature, utility bills, you need it, you can’t do without it, you have to pay for it and people do it without focusing on it. It’s unfortunate because, as that last note says, you have overhead insurance and stuff like that, but certainly, energy costs could be a top-five expense item.

I’m sure it’s not far behind payroll expenses and all the other claims that are overhead.

It’s funny you mentioned that as we work with firms like yourself within the BDO Alliance, CPA firms certainly have the bills at hand and when we asked them to share the bills, they’re like, “I can’t even believe how expensive it is for a company.” Reflective makes it very simple. We have very simple three-pronged approaches that we use to help people with their energy needs. We help our customers pay less.

We help them use less and make their own on-site where it makes sense. How do we help your business pay less? We started our bread and butter as energy procurement, which is the commodity savings. We do curtailment programs in which the utility will pay large users of electricity to curtail their usage. When the greatest strain, let’s say on a very hot August day, you’re using a lot of kilowatt-hours or electricity to power your plant or your building.

If you go into a curtailment program, you can maybe turn your air conditioner up a couple of degrees. Shut down a manufacturing line if it’s not needed. In the hotel industry, shut down an elevator bay. Things of that nature simply reduce the amount of usage at a time when the utility grid is very strong. Utility auditing or rate optimization. You’d be so surprised at how many people have shared their utility bills with me.

I look right away and they’re not in the right tax class or they’re not in the right rate class. The cool part about the utility bill auditing is that we can get rebates up to 36 months or three years in arrears to come back to the customer. Not only are you moving forward going to save a nice chunk of change on your bills because the tax rate and the rate class were corrected. We were also able to get monies that were previously incorrectly charged.

TAP 32 | Energy For Business

Energy For Business: You can’t do without energy, so you have to pay for it.

 

Can we get retroactive back to three years? That audit that you guys do, is there a fee around it? How does that work?

Unlike a lot of energy firms, we don’t charge a penny for you sending us your bills. In other words, we’ve been doing this a long time and pat ourselves on the back because we’re pretty good at it. We can tell by looking at the bills and maybe you share an address if you’re interested in something else. We can tell right away if your demand is high, you probably could use new lighting. You’re being inefficient. If your rates are high, we can tell you that right away.

As far as your question on the utility bill, auditing is a shared savings model. It’s the only one in our portfolio or our arsenal that is a shared savings. Meaning there’s no out-of-money pocket if we can’t get a rebate, which is the beauty of it. If we’re able to get a rebate, then you see that rebate on your bill plain as day. If you get $1,000 back, you keep 70% and write a check to the auditing partner to pay for their work that got you the rebate.

How do we help your business use last? Lighting retrofits are the lowest hanging fruit outside of the commodity service. You’ll see by switching your lights to LEDs. If you haven’t looked at lighting in five years, the technology is constantly changing. You can lower your bill by about 15% from lighting efficiencies and the payback on lighting projects. I’ve done them when they’d been up ten months because the lighting was old or maybe two years, even that’s a stretch.

It’s a very quick way that not only saves money but also achieves a quick payback. Other things too like weatherization, monitors, building management systems, equipment upgrades of which most depending on the age of your equipment is utility rebates available, and boiler retrofits. We do those from oil to natural gas. Oil is much more expensive than natural gas, not to mention a heck of a lot cleaner.

The small guys like to save money too. Click To Tweet

A lot of larger cities are forcing buildings to do that because of the pollution from burning oil. Lastly, how do we help businesses make their own? It’s pretty straightforward. Solar photovoltaic or Solar PV, or cogeneration or combined heat and power/CHP. Solar is highly incentivized around the country. Both federal and locally. We’ve had megawatts and megawatts installed around the country. It’s a very good solution depending on the part of the country you’re in, a pretty attractive payback. The reason I say, depending on what part of the country you’re in, is because the higher the rate for your electricity, the shorter the payback because the solar is going to offset a higher rate. I hope that makes sense. Meaning in New York, when you’re all setting a twenty-cent per kilowatt-hour rate, the payback is going to be quick because that free electricity is worth more.

If you’re in Tennessee, where the offset rate is $0.05. You may have a longer payback. Outside of the federal rebates, which are obviously the same for every state across the country, every state has different local rebates, even within the state. New York City has a different rebate than Upstate New York, where you are. Long Island might have a different rebate, etc. I’m trying to give examples of what might change and why.

When does it make sense to do something like solar?

Being biased, I think it makes sense at any time. I’ve seen bills pre and post solar. Being an energy guy, I get excited because you get your bill and you look at the usage. Instead of saying thousands of kilowatt-hours, it says zero. If you overproduce the utilities true-up at the end and you can make money if you overproduce. Because of that, utilities don’t allow you to put a solar array on your roof that is more than 10% of your usage. If you use 100,000 kilowatt-hours a year, you can’t put a system on your roof that’s going to generate more than 110,000 kilowatt-hours a year. It’s beneficial to the customer as well because the over generation, you’re only making the wholesale rates or the wholesale price back. If you want to make a huge thing and cover 100%, it doesn’t pencil out.

It’s a blessing in disguise, if you will. People should look at doing solar if you have a flat roof or even a nice parking lot. We’re entering into a megawatt, which is a million-kilowatt hour for a school. Schools are nonprofits and we could fit about 750,000 kilowatt-hours on the roof and then we’re doing carports to make up the difference. Carports have their own benefit, even outside the solar piece. You’re covered from the elements and it’s a safer environment because if you go out when it’s dark, there’s LED lighting underneath of it. We can do car charging as part of that as well, which is nice. A lot of providers throw that in.

As we move into 2021 and 2022, I’ve seen a lot more electric cars and I think that’s a pretty neat thing to have. In a lot of instances, too, even if customers are looking at redoing their roofs. If the roof repair is needed in order to make solar work, you can roll that into the whole cost of the solar project and reap the benefits of the rebates with that roofing included. You’re almost getting a free roof rebated and that’s added into the cost of the solar.

Is it figuring out if it’s for you? What’s that process look like?

We’ve done solar projects of all sizes or on top of buildings in Manhattan to cover the common area costs, which could be only 50,000 kilowatt-hours a year. Again, as I mentioned, we’ve done megawatts. I’ve had a lot of meetings that people come into solar and they’re into it. They want to make their buildings green. I’ve seen people do it before they sell it because it raises the property value. I’ve seen people do it because it’s good marketing for businesses to come in and pay a lower rate because they know they’re getting free electricity. If you’re rolling that electricity into part of your lease, that part goes away or at least goes down drastically. With that said, the owner has two choices. He could charge them a lower rate for electricity and make money that way.

In essence, they’re getting free electricity but the tenant is paying for it or they can pass that free electricity on to the tenants. Either way, it’s a win-win because the tenant would be paying less and the owner is making money. It depends on how your building looks. If you want to do solar and you don’t have a parking lot or the acreage to put it on the ground, but you have a ton of equipment on the roof, unfortunately, it’s not going to work.

If you’re using a million-kilowatt hour a year and you can only fit a thousand-kilowatt hours’ worth of panels or production on the roof, you’re not going to do it for 1%. Cogeneration or combined heat and power. It’s a generator that facilities put into their boiler room. It runs on natural gas. It creates heat. It’s a generator and you use that heat to heat your domestic hot water, whether it’s for manufacturing or the healthcare industry, etc.

Like any generator that you would put on if your power went out, it creates electricity. Gas is cheaper than electricity when you do the analysis. It’s great for hotels and healthcare. We’ve done a lot of those in Manhattan. It’s another nice solution, if not eliminate, to reduce your electric bill. Why Reflective Energy Solutions? Within our team and our board, we have over 150 years of industry experience. We’ve been doing this a long time. The customer always comes first. I get so many bills where their previous consultant disappeared and didn’t pay attention. With the commodity side I mentioned, if they’re contracted in or locked into a fixed rate that was less than their utility and their consultant disappear and was in it for the quick deal, that locked in right lapses after the contract term.

All of a sudden, the supplier who was charging down the locked-in rate puts it on a market rate. That’s typically higher than both their locked-in rate and what the utility would be charging. We’re very good at remaining in front of our customers and they always come first. We present these solutions but we pour over the contracts to make sure that there’s nothing in it that would come back to haunt the customer.

TAP 32 | Energy For Business

Energy For Business: We are vendor agnostic, meaning the only thing that we truly care about is what’s best for our customers.

 

We’ve had our relationship within this industry with the different suppliers and the different partners we have. Some of its boiler-plate and its part of the energy industry. We have a lot of finicky customers, as does everyone. They want this word taken out, that sentence taken out, and I’ve yet to have an experience where they wouldn’t do something like that because it seems reasonable. Communication with the utilities is a big part of one point of contact.

Everybody that’s reading cannot stand calling their utility because you’re calling them because something is wrong. Either you were billed wrong or God forbid, your power went out, things of that nature. We know who to call, the right numbers to call, get a person on the phone, etc. We’re happy to do that. Utility bill review, we went over that. I also mentioned contract negotiations. When you look at contract negotiations, it’s something that a lot of people don’t think of. One example is, let’s say you’re in a commodity contract.

The contract says that some standard language would be 25% of what you used the upcoming year compared to what you used historically in the twelve previous months. Meaning, again, for math’s sake, if you used 100,000 kilowatt-hours the last 12 months, then that rate that they’re giving you on that contract is only good up to 125,000 kilowatt-hours or as low as 75,000 kilowatt-hours because it has a 25% what we call bandwidth or usage restriction.

We make sure that’s always 100%, two-fold. It takes the risk off the customer and maybe they are having a bad year or the flip side a very good year and they’re using more. Also, as important, let’s say they enter into a three-year contract agreement and want to go solar, do lighting, or some of the other things we mentioned to greatly reduce their usage. Let’s say they reduce it a 100% or 90%. They’re falling out of that bandwidth, so we make sure all our contracts read a 100% bandwidth and things of that nature. It all comes back again to the customers first.

Navigating those nuances, it only makes sense to work with a professional.

People don’t have time to pour over that. Of course, most people will look it over and read it. The first time I’m working with them or maybe it’s the first time they’re doing something. It takes a little bit of handholding and we’re happy to do that. That’s our job. Once you have somebody, and as I mentioned, we’re very good at retaining customers, you know what contract language they want, even if it’s with a cheaper supplier.

The next time you send them the old contract, you say, “It has to read similar to this or like this,” because people don’t have the time to pour over contracts. Who wants to pay outside legal fees if they don’t have it in-house? To be quite honest, most company’s legal teams don’t understand energy contract language. They’re there because they’re in-house at a firm because they’re very smart at what that firm does legally, like managing risk, etc. When they look over a utility contract, they’re like, “What is usage restriction?” They don’t know this type of thing.

As you said in the beginning, it’s probably top five on expenses, but it’s probably low on the list of going after it to see what we can.

That’s what I say. Top five expense, bottom five focus.

I know you had some examples in here, so those are always fun.

This was cool. We were on the news up in Connecticut for this. This is the largest rooftop solar array in Connecticut. It’s almost 750 megawatts and 750,000 kilowatt-hours of production. Building and land technology is a big firm in Stanford in Silicon Harbor, Connecticut. They loved it. We had a press release where we cut the ribbon on the roof and everything. These guys, to your previous question, are the big builders up there. They love solar and want to be green, be nice to the environment. It was a great payback. We do have customers that are green thumbs and tree huggers. I don’t use that term derogatory and they’ll go solar regardless of payback. A lot of our customers, the only green they care about are the kind that goes in their pocket. That’s why they liked that quick payback.

You identify the efficiencies and the savings, but there’s also a green corporate citizen, PR look to it as well.

With this one, as I mentioned, they were all over it. They were big players in Connecticut. They got on the news. They got press released, which we spoke at. It was great. This slide is to say that we work with all companies, all shapes and sizes. Triumph Hotel owns multifamily buildings as well as six hotels in Manhattan. We’ve done solar on all their multifamily buildings. They get free electricity for their common areas. We then did cogeneration in three of their hotels. Again, per my definition of cogeneration, it heats the domestic hot water for their linen services, in-house linen services and things of that nature. They save about a quarter. We also help them with their commodity, both natural gas and electricity, because New York is very expensive. They’re saving $250,000 annually on their energy.

Co-generation is another nice solution to reduce, if not eliminate, your electric bill. Click To Tweet

The middle one, Ponchos, and the cafe are smaller, but the small guys like to save money too. They did everything else. They had new lighting and things of that nature but were paying 30% more than they should be with the utility, so we help them with their commodity. The last one is what I call a medium customer. This is going by usage guys as well as the economics. We help them attain almost 1/3 of what they were spending cutoff their annual bills.

This is only to give an idea of Reflective. We have customers of all shapes and sizes. Some of the bigger ones we have are Bumblebee Tuna, Crema Land, over all different types of verticals, whether it’s in manufacturing, distribution, senior living, healthcare, so forth and so on. We are happy to help any customer of any size to save money. We don’t do residential but certainly, if your rate class on your bill says non-residential, commercial, or industrial, we’re here to help you guys.

Matt, I appreciate your time and definitely, important information. As I said, going back to starting to bring some business resiliency and returning to the business world in this “new normal” identifying efficiencies is very important as is working with professionals like Reflective. Again, I appreciate the time.

Thank you so much, Brian. I appreciate it.

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About Matthew Holland

TAP 32 | Energy For BusinessHighly motivated and experienced procurement / facilities professional skilled in managing supply and equipment needs for multiple offices / warehouses.

Proven ability to manage staff, develop and oversee operating budgets, and communicate with other departments, vendors, and executive management to ensure procurement / facility goals are met.

Experience with sourcing suppliers for purchased goods, negotiating contracts including blanket agreements and bulk commodity pricing agreements.

Possess knowledge of building operations gained while performing surveys at facilities to recommend ways to improve operations.

 

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