Soaring electricity costs force some U.S. businesses to close their doors. New technology from Bristol Park Industries offers relief from escalating electric bills.

If you think gasoline prices are high, take a look at the price of electricity. Here are a few examples of the effects of energy cost hikes on heavy industry in the West. Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group, which represents high-tech companies, warns that a power shortage may cripple the San Jose economy. A jump from $35 per megawatt hour to $625 forced Montana Resources to close its copper mining operation, a loss of 350 jobs. Alcoa Inc. pulled the plug on its Troutdale, Oregon Reduction Plant, leaving 525 workers jobless. In Washington State, Kaiser Aluminum Corp. is laying off 400 workers, Vanalco Inc. will eliminate 450 jobs, and Georgia-Pacific West Inc. closed for two days and left 600 workers idle. All blame high electricity costs.

Wholesale prices, usually $20 to $30 per megawatt hour, spiked to $1000 - more than 40 times normal levels in late June before dropping back in mid-July. Blame a booming economy, hot weather, low hydro supplies, and a high-tech sector with a big appetite for electricity at a time when deregulation has made electricity a hot commodity. Whatever the reason, companies without long term electricity contracts who benefited from extremely low spot market rates earlier are now taking it on the chin.

Energy prices now hover around $100 per megawatt hour, but reducing electrical consumption can mean expensive new equipment, lower production, and inadequate lighting and air conditioning.

Bristal Park Industries, a small Culver City, Calif. company, has come up with a device that's helping hundreds of companies painlessly lower their lighting bills - in some cases by as much as 33%. The Wattman Lighting Voltage Controller reduces the amount of electricity needed to run High Intensity Discharge (HID) lighting systems, which include metal halide, high pressure sodium, mercury vapor lamps, and fluorescent lighting - without reducing the perceptible light they emit.

Bristol Park notes that using a 100A lighting voltage controller would save 22% to 33% in its annual lighting costs (about $133,250, based on a 22% saving when a kilowatt-hour costs $10). The company estimates a 1500-outlet hardware chain now fitted with Wattman units will save more than $1 billion in lighting costs over the next 20 years. For most users, actual electric bill savings have ranged from 15% to 35%.

Cash savings aren't the only benefits of energy reduction devices. Power suppliers and local governments now offer incentives for voluntary cuts. As the gap between production and consumption grows, voluntary cuts may be replaced by supply shut-offs to nonessential facilities during shortfalls. Some plant managers are taking pre-emptive action, looking to devices like the Wattman lighting voltage controller to help conserve energy and bring their energy expenditures back in line.

A company experienced some power quality problems, so they installed a central UPS. Several months later, the UPS blew and the load took a hit. The company then accused the UPS manufacturer of making a bad product. But, was it really bad? Investigation revealed why the manufacturer was not at fault. The building had no lightning protection, no TVSS ahead of the UPS, and a grounding system grossly out of compliance with the NEC Art. 250.

The lesson here is you need a complete solution to protect your system from surges. Divide a facility up into zones - moving from the outside to the point of use. Lightning protection and bonding of all metal objects on (or adjacent to) the building (per NFPA 780) addresses the outer zone. Then, you need TVSS at the service entrance, and additional protection (e.g., MOVs) at the point of use. Bear in mind that most surge protection equipment works to divert the surge to ground. And ground doesn't necessarily mean earth. A solid review of your facility against Art. 250 (and NFPA 780) is paramount for surge protection. Only when your facility complies with these documents can surge protection devices do the job they're meant to do.