dilithium crystals

Energy efficiency and the Enterprise: I'm giving it all she's got captain

In about three months, most of the energy efficiency work I've been trying to get done the past two years must be complete.

So far, only a fraction has been put in place.

It's making me a little frantic to say the least. I feel like Montgomery Scott in the engine room of the Enterprise in an early episode of the original "Star Trek." Captain Kirk is on the bridge sweating buckets. The ship is surrounded by five Klingon warrior-class vessels pummeling its shields with everything in their arsenals.

Kirk: "Scotty, get us out of here."

Scott: (Without brogue) "I can't change the laws of physics. I've got to have 30 minutes."

Montgomery Scott: Mentor

I'm imagining the scene. Purists would point out how I sloppily combined several events. But Scotty somehow figured to pull a miracle every time even while saying, "I've given her all she's got captain, an' I canna give her no more." Or "The shape the thing's in, it's hard to keep it from blowin'."

He's my mentor when I feel overwhelmed. (Others of my generation likely can relate. I grew up in the 1960s in front of a black-and-white console TV.) And, at least in this case, his coaching via mental reruns appears to have helped.

The project started two years ago with great fanfare. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was meant to immediately inject cash into the economy and put people to work.

Slow, government crossing

Many know it by another name: stimulus money. I work with Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants. They're very specific, targeting retrofits that generate immediate energy savings and instant payback in reduced utility bills.

On my list for the 34 cities and three counties I work with are mostly lights, air conditioning units and pump motors. All told, the savings will amount to 5.4 million kilowatt hours, or, depending on how you calculate it, about the same amount in pounds of carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gases.

No slouch there.

Retrofits save $

But turning grant money into pretty new T8 fluorescent and LED or induction lighting, SEER 13 ACs and premium efficiency custom motors has not been easy. After many regulatory hurdles, I finally got the go-ahead only to discover contracting the work out brought on its own hurdles.

Turns out that what the government will pay for the job didn't cover most contractors' costs. And my projects needed revisions and extra legwork. Two years is a long time and some projects that look good in 2009 don't work in 2012.

Now I've collected a crew of capable contractors willing to take on razor-thin margins to make the projects work. I'm going through each project and dealing with dozens of questions, problems and hassles.

"It's ... uh ... it's green!"

But now on the eve of the holidays, I believe we can make a go of it. Or at least a sporting fight. My contact at the California Energy Commission, who is working overtime to assist me, sometimes wonders whether we can pull it off and get all the measures installed before the money disappears.

After all, the clock on the project is ticking.

But I've got Scott's TV voice echoing in my mind. It's pointing out the stark reality (something like "This jury-rigging won't last for long" and "The warp drive is a hopeless pile of junk") while giving me the confidence to figure a solution before the end of the episode.