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2/2/2003

Businessmen hope to shock power market

By Pam Mellskog
The Daily Times-Call

BOULDER — Given the long history of electricity regulation in the United States, many business owners and managers have been conditioned to write off energy costs as uncontrollable, according to Dr. Jack Mason, president and chief executive officer of Boulder-based EnergyWindow.

But electricity often ranks among a company’s top six line item expenses, something Mason said can now be shaved with savvy brokering in deregulated states.

The mission of EnergyWindow is simple: to be, said Mason, “the energy buyer’s ally in managing and procuring energy.”

He and chief technology officer Dr. Mike Usrey incorporated EnergyWindow with just $200,000 from their own pockets two years after the electricity deregulation movement launched in 1997 — a movement that has now liberated 16 states and the District of Columbia from regulation.

“The market had to be disrupted by deregulation for us to get our opportunity,” said Mason, 58, a nationally recognized electricity deregulation expert who has testified before legislative and regulatory groups in Illinois and Virginia.

But Mason said it took until 2002, when revenue increased by 70 percent, before he and Usrey — both former University of Colorado professors with experience growing small businesses — could draw a salary.

Despite the potential cost savings of bidding for sweeter deals on electricity, the two entrepreneurs found many businesses overwhelmed with the prospect of trying to recoup savings in a market riddled with complexity and volatility.

Usrey, 42, explained that to make an informed decision, a business owner or manager would need to consider 120 factors to devise a cost-saving energy strategy.

“And because there’s an incumbent utility there, if they don’t attend to energy supply opportunities, the world won’t fall around their ears,” Usrey said.

As a low priority, Mason said companies have never focused on finding savings in their energy costs.

But EnergyWindow’s flagship offering — powerful request/bid software technology — can crunch variables to give qualified buyers easy access to nationally known energy suppliers.

The application can be completed on-line by submitting 12 months of electricity bills for each facility. In this way, EnergyWindow can take otherwise esoteric information included on those bills — such as kilowatt hours and maximum usages — to measure usage patterns and determine the best savings strategy.

Mason said average savings ranges between 2 percent and 17 percent for customers such as Boston Market, ConocoPhillips, Blockbuster and Target. Even a small savings percentage can make a big difference to some of EnergyWindow’s larger clients.

For one large home improvement center company with hundreds of stores in 43 states — which he declined to name — Mason said EnergyWindow helped it save 6 percent for nine facilities, which amounted to $125,000 in the past year.

For its part, Usrey said EnergyWindow skims one-half to three-quarters of a percentage of the value of the electricity supplied, so the customer is never directly billed. And unlike other savings investments that pay off over time, this one benefits the business and EnergyWindow immediately.

“With us, it’s always positive cash flow for buyer and supplier,” Mason said.

However, Colorado is currently not deregulated in this area and therefore not subject to free market competition, which means all of EnergyWindow’s customers are currently from other states. For more information, visit www.energywindow.com.

Pam Mellskog can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 224, or by e-mail at pmellskog@times-call.com.