Agricultural producers and other rural businesses can suffer the most during an economic downturn. And when the going gets tough, that’s the time for the tough to get efficient, energy efficient that is, and save tens of thousands of dollars.

Enterprises with fewer than 500 employees located in rural areas of West Virginia can now get a boost to their bottom line from a new energy efficiency program being offered by Industries of the Future—West Virginia at West Virginia University.

WVU’s Bhaskaran Gopalakrishnan received $100,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to conduct energy assessments for small rural enterprises at low or no cost to them.

With the exception of some areas around Charleston, Huntington and the I-64 corridor, the entire state is covered by the program.

Gopalakrishnan knows his stuff, too: he is a professor of industrial and management systems engineering, an IOF-WV Energy Efficiency Fellow, director of the WVU Industrial Assessment Center, and an Energy Expert and Qualified Specialist of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Save Energy Now program.

The IOF-WV program is teaming with the WVU Extension Service to ensure that the program meets farmers’ unique needs. They are also teaming with the West Virginia Manufacturing Extension Program of the WVU College of Engineering and Mineral Resources to reach small commercial or industrial companies.

“The partnership we have with the WV MEP and the WVU Agricultural Extension is invaluable in this effort, as they bring a wealth of knowledge and experience in their respective fields to the equation,” Gopalakrishnan said.

“For example, we know that poultry growers are major energy users and have real and valid concerns about the possibility of contaminants due to outside influence. However a win-win situation can be created for obtaining real energy savings.”

“A key strength of the program is the ability to reach out to businesses that normally would not qualify for an energy assessment,” said Ed Crowe, IOF-WV engineering scientist.

The assessment team comes to the location armed with the latest high tech instruments to identify energy losses. The team will spend one to two days gathering data and will deliver recommendations six to eight weeks later.

“We focus on practical recommendations that lead to bottom line results,” said Gopalakrishnan. When combined with Gopalakrishnan’s waste and productivity suggestions, manufacturers have saved an average of $60,000 per year.

But the team doesn’t always need to make a site visit themselves. Recently, the WV MEP program sent detailed information about a small business in Charles Town that was looking to invest in a new type of natural gas oven to increase productivity. Crowe and Gopalakrishnan will be evaluating that data for potential energy savings and making a recommendation to the company free of charge.

In addition to the recommendations, the team also shares information about USDA loan programs to help underwrite the initial cost of following the recommendations. They also encourage businesses to talk with their tax accountants to uncover tax credits for energy efficiency investments as additional savings.

A typical assessment could cost from $800 to $1,400, but under the USDA program, businesses will be expected to provide only 25 percent of that amount. For certain qualified businesses, the West Virginia Division of Energy has awarded additional funding to WVU to underwrite even the 25 percent cost, allowing the business to receive the service free.

For more information about the program or to register to request an audit, visit To learn if a small business qualifies for the free or low-cost service, contact IOF-WV Engineering Scientist Ed Crowe at 304 293-2867 ext. 5435.


tkw 4/6/10

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