After doing everything possible to reduce your energy consumption, use that saved money to purchase renewable power either through the local utility company or by installing a production system on-site. Renewable energies are a great way to help reduce an establishment's greenhouse gas emissions, reduce other toxic emissions such as mercury and potentially save money.
If your utility acquires its electricity from a coal-fired plant (50% of US energy is) or your business uses natural gas, greenhouse gases and mercury are released into the air through the production of that electricity. If your electricity comes from a nuclear power plant, radioactive waste remains for thousands of years, not to mention the danger of local contamination and potential diasasters. Many utilities offer a chance to purchase various forms of renewable energy from their grid that do not emit these gases and toxins. Buying green power usually costs slightly more than standard, but sometimes costs less depending on your consumption and does not produce greenhouse gases. Currently, green power rates run a premium of a fraction of a cent higher than base costs to 17 cents higher per kilowatt hour (kWh). The average green energy premium across the U.S. was 2.36 cents per kWh in 2005. These premiums should continue to fall as they have since 2001, and it may be a wise investment to lock into stable, often limited renewable energy pricing as fossil fuel prices continue to climb.
The Department of Energy has developed a program called the Green Power Network. It provides information on different kinds of renewable energies and a renewable energies database of utilities offering clean energy. This is a fairly detailed site listing utilities offering green power on a state-by-state basis, but some utilities have not been updated on the list. Inquire with your local provider about green energy if it is not listed on this site.
Another program, Renewable Northwest Program, offers a more complete listing for Northwest utilities providing renewable energies.
Carbon Credits / Renewable Energy Certificates
If your utility does not offer green energy choices, many carbon credit options are available. Renewable energy certificates (RECs), carbon credits, green credits or any of their other names are usually sold by companies to individuals or businesses to offset greenhouse gas emissions for everything from riding in an airplane to running a business. These offset companies use the income from the RECs to invest in renewable energy projects, plant trees or various other carbon offsetting programs. The credits are based on the amount of energy consumed or carbon created, and can vary greatly from one company to the next. Of course, before purchasing carbon credits, the more economical and beneficial action is to reduce your energy consumption altogether.
Quite a bit of opposition has come against carbon credit companies because they offer an easy out for creating emissions rather than reducing them in the first place. Opposition has also arisen because there is no standardized oversight or regulation to legitimize these companies. However, there are a number of organizations certifying and verifying carbon credit companies.
The Environmental Defense Fund maintains a web site, CarbonOffsetList.org, which reviews and lists credible carbon offset organizations. Ecobusinesslinks.com maintains a database of carbon credit programs worldwide and the organizations that certify them.
Make Your Own
While most foodservice facilities use far too much energy to produce all their own needs, the possibility of installing energy production systems is not out of the question. In certain areas of the country, systems like solar water heaters and photovoltaic (PV) are reasonable investments. Solar water heaters are a reasonably minor investment when paired with rebates and tax credits and offer a fairly small payback period, especially in sunny climates. PV is a more expensive option with a longer payback, but may be a worthwhile investment for seasonal business that can sell energy back to the utility company in the off-season. A lot of research and development is going into PV options like thin cell technology which should drop the price dramatically in the years to come.
The Department of Energy provides an introduction to the different kinds of renewable energies, how they work, the technologies involved and various other tools such as resource maps.
Along the same lines, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory offers information on renewable energy possibilities for small businesses. (Note the Applebees with a beautifully integrated PV system)
Many states and utilities offer rebates and tax credits along with federal tax credits for installing renewable energy systems. See the "Rebate Programs" link for more information on different rebate and tax credit programs.