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Coffee roaster embraces green effort

Terry Patano’s vintage coffee roaster was a beauty. Built half a century ago in Germany, the Probat was the kind of working antique that craft roasters aspire to own.

But the roaster also guzzled natural gas, a troubling fact for Patano, who owns Doma Coffee Roasting Co. in Post Falls with his wife, Rebecca. The couple buy organic coffee beans, invest in wind power and encourage their five employees to bike to work. The Probat didn’t fit the environmentally conscious culture the couple wanted for Doma Coffee.

Last year, the Patanos ordered a $100,000 roaster that uses 80 percent less energy. The roaster, which arrived two weeks ago, was an ethical as well as a business decision.

“I thought we could roast better coffee, and it happens to be a design that helps save the Earth,” Terry Patano said. “That 80 percent less consumption was keeping me awake at night.”

Built by Loring Smart Roast in Santa Rosa, Calif., the roaster uses a recirculating heat system that will reduce Doma’s natural gas use by about 2,000 gallons per year. An energy audit by Avista Utilities estimates that the roaster will pay for itself within five years. Doma also qualified for a small rebate from the utility on the cost of the roaster.

Projects like Doma’s roaster are the backbone of Avista’s “Every Little Bit” program, designed to encourage commercial and residential consumers to step up their energy savings. Launched last year for less than $1 million, the campaign uses TV spots and community outreach to get the message across.

Though it may sound counterintuitive, Avista has a vested interest in encouraging its gas and electric customers to reduce their energy use, said Bruce Folsom, who runs Avista’s energy efficiency programs.

“People ask why we are paying customers to use less of our product,” he said. “Energy savings is the least expensive new resource we can acquire” – far less costly than building new power plants, he said.

Customers, however, weren’t necessarily getting that message, the utility found. A survey of Avista customers last spring uncovered jaded views on energy efficiency. The customers surveyed believed their homes and business were already energy efficient; that making further improvements was too expensive; or that their efforts wouldn’t make a significant difference.

Hence the name “Every Little Bit,” Folsom said. The campaign gave out more than 353,000 coupons for compact fluorescent light bulbs at community fairs and events. It also emphasized the benefits of energy-efficient appliances to both residential and commercial customers.

Folsom credits the program with helping Avista exceed its conservation goals last year, while acknowledging that soaring energy costs might also have motivated customers. Avista’s electricity conservation was nearly 13 percent higher than anticipated last year, and natural gas conservation was 40 percent higher than expected.

Terry Patano was an energy-efficiency advocate long before he contacted Avista for assistance. He spends about 15 to 20 hours per week researching ways to make 7-year-old Doma more socially and environmentally friendly.

The effort began with the couple’s interest in recycling. It broadened into buying organic and fair-trade coffee beans and now includes the purchase of carbon credits to offset greenhouse gases produced by Doma’s operations and its employees at their residences. Refillable coffee cans and a certified green building are in the company’s future plans.

It was the carbon credits, though, that got Patano thinking about his old roaster. Though it would probably run for another 50 years, Patano figured it was time to sell it and buy a new one.

The purchase of the Loring Smart Roaster was a big outlay for the small company.

“But was worth it do the right thing,” Patano said. “To put our money where our mouth was.”

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