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Innovative Program Will Help Lead Health System to Energy Independence by 2014

LA CROSSE, Wis., April 21 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- When Gundersen Lutheran Health System set out to reduce energy consumption, they weren't looking for the 1 to 2 percent decrease that's common at healthcare facilities. Instead, they're aiming for a 20 percent or more reduction in less than two years. That's 9,600 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually that's not being released into the environment, the equivalent of removing 1,631 cars from the road. The La Crosse, Wis.-based health system is on target to achieve their goal through retrocommissioning.

Retrocommissioning examines heating and cooling systems, lighting and employee behavior and uses primarily low-cost or no-cost measures to improve efficiency and reduce energy demand. The process will save Gundersen Lutheran approximately $800,000 a year and is the first step in their plan to become 100 percent energy independent by 2014.

"We had to reverse the trend of rising energy use because our energy costs were increasing by about $350,000 a year, and being passed on to patients in the form of higher healthcare costs," says Jeff Rich, Gundersen Lutheran's executive director of Efficiency Improvement.

The health system conducted an energy audit in February 2008 to identify areas for improvement. "Retrocommissioning came up during that event. We realized there were dozens of measures we could take to improve efficiency and reduce energy demand in our buildings," explains Corey Zarecki, Gundersen Lutheran's efficiency improvement leader.

For example, Gundersen Lutheran is retrofitting light fixtures in six buildings on two campuses with more energy efficient fixtures, which will drop the health system's energy use by 1.5 million kilowatt hours a year. They expect to see an annual savings of $250,000 with this retrocommissioning initiative alone.

Gundersen Lutheran has been working with Focus On Energy and other engineering resources on retrocommissioning efforts. Through those efforts, Gundersen Lutheran saw a 10 percent decrease in energy consumption in 2008, and expects to see a 20 percent decrease or more by the end of 2009. That's an 8 million kW hour reduction in electricity consumption and 40 million cubic feet reduction in natural gas consumption each year.

"Our changes are sustainable and we're seeing paybacks quickly," Rich says. "We're setting an example for other health systems in the country. We're not just talking about reducing energy consumption by 20 percent. We're showing it can be done."

SOURCE Gundersen Lutheran Health System
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