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Rainbow Room wins local energy contest

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury’s Rainbow Room spent the past three months dialing down its wattage, but the business is glowing more brightly than ever. That’s because the Rainbow Room placed tops among 14 Middlebury businesses that participated in an energy conservation challenge.
At issue is “Middlebury Unplugged,” a friendly competition organized by the Vermont Community Foundation (VCF). Participating businesses were equipped with an energy monitor and data logging software that charted each entity’s electricity consumption and costs. The business that was able to reduce its energy costs by the greatest percentage (compared to the same period the previous year) was declared the winner.
The Rainbow Room won the challenge by conserving more than 1,400 kilowatt hours during the three months this past winter. That savings amounted to $177 — or a 38-percent savings — compared to the same time the previous year, according to project organizers Alexandra Braunstein and Ruthie Schwab of the VCF.
“We weren’t sure what to expect… but when we did tally up the numbers, we were surprised,” Schwab said of the results. “These businesses weren’t putting solar panels on their ceilings or making any big changes like that; they were doing a lot of things that small businesses can do save energy without requiring large capital costs.”
Indeed, in the case of the Rainbow Room, the changes centered largely on reducing store lighting, or even eliminating it at times when the business was closed. Rainbow Room owner Abby DeGraw said the in-store energy monitor provided her and her employees with a constant reminder of how much electricity was being used and how effective their conservation efforts were proving to be.
“I was shocked,” DeGraw said of the energy conservation results using very simple techniques she believes the Rainbow Room will be able to sustain over the long-term.
The top five businesses in the competition conserved a combined total of 3,262 kilowatt hours during then three-month competition, an amount representing $315 in savings.
“When you consider the average utility bill of these businesses is less than $120 a month, the numbers become more substantial,” Braunstein said.
Along with the Rainbow Room, the top finishers in the competition included Bejewelled, Blue Moon, Autumn Gold and Green Mountain Apparel. Organizers also singled out Vermont’s Own and Vermont Sun for making substantial reductions in energy use. The top finishers’ “prizes” consist of the energy savings they racked up during the competition and the public exposure for their accomplishments, according to organizers.
It was early last spring that the VCF applied for a $10,000 grant from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources to initiate Middlebury Unplugged. The VCF won the grant and supplemented it with $1,000 of its own resources. The bulk of the money went toward buying the competition software and energy monitors, which businesses agreed to install near their cashier areas.
Organizers are already planning a next phase of the competition, likely to include a fewer number of larger entities. Schwab said future participants might include municipal complexes, nonprofits and residential buildings. The competition will again span three months, this time during the hotter months, when air conditioning tends to boost electricity consumption.
“We are already having talks with people,” Braunstein said, noting the next phase of “Middlebury Unplugged” will be cheaper because the energy monitors and software have already been purchased.
Any homeowner, business or nonprofit organization interested in participating in the next round of the competition should call the VCF at 388-3355, or e-mail [email protected].
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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