By Dylan Sullivan, NRDC
The Ohio unemployment rate may be closely tracking the national one: a dismal 8.6 percent in May. But at Greg Smith’s Energy Optimizers USA (EOUSA) in Tipp City, Ohio, there’s a jobs boom underway.
“We’ve gone from one employee less than two years ago – me – to 14 employees,” says Smith, who, with much of his staff, is pictured here in the top right corner. The firm conducts comprehensive building energy-efficiency retrofits at schools and other government buildings.
Two recent hires are grads of the University of Dayton’s Renewable and Clean Energy Program. “Now, I’m looking to for another project manager,” says Smith, who got his start in the energy-efficiency business while at Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning giant Trane.
In a sluggish economy, EOUSA’s rapid growth has been supported by Ohio policy: specifically an energy efficiency standard that requires Ohio’s electric utilities to help customers save energy. These utilities in turn offer incentives to “buy down” the cost of efficiency upgrades. “The rebates are driving projects,” Smith explains matter-of-factly.
In addition to the utility incentives, Smith’s got a winning business model. He guarantees the buildings his company retrofits will hit their projected energy savings, or Smith sends a check for the difference. And then there’s the plain truth that energy efficiency makes sense for just about everyone: “For a school system that’s going to keep its buildings,” says Smith, “payback on investment can be 5-6 years to 10-12 years. It creates a positive cash flow.”
EOUSA’s slogan is “Saving You Money While Saving Our Environment.” But its owner confounds stereotypes and highlights green energy’s broad appeal: Smith identifies, politically, as a conservative. “This is not what people think about when they think about conservatives,” he says. “But I think energy efficiency and renewable energy are important for conservatives and independents to take note of.”
Smith says promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy through legislation like Ohio’s Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard is in the country’s best interest—and his state’s best interest, too. “We need to be energy independent and stop buying all that foreign oil,” Smith explains. Energy efficiency and renewable energy can revitalize our stalled economy, he believes. “In my mind,” he says, “this is the next industrial revolution. We have smart people here who can do the engineering and the manufacturing.”
Already, his clients and their communities are seeing the benefits of his company’s work. The Jackson City School district, with 5 schools and 2500 students, for instance, will lower its current $1 million energy bill by close to $160,000 annually, once the retrofits EOUSA’s undertaken are complete, says Schools Superintendent Phil Howard. “If we can save a teacher’s salary or two by doing this, it makes sense.”
Energy Optimizers USA’s 13 recent hires couldn’t agree more.