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Turn down utility bills with help from ‘energy audit’

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Take advantage of free energy audits from utilities and government groups, which are more plentiful for small businesses these days.

One reason: Energy conservation allows utilities to delay construction of expensive new power plants.

Advice: Contact your local utility first to see what it offers. Some provide free Web-based tools to walk you through potential energy savings. Other utilities may send workers to your site to help you identify areas of potential energy savings.

Examples: Pacific Gas and Electric offers audits, rebates for replacing energy guzzling equipment and conservation training. The Energy Division of Tennessee's Department of Economic & Community Development offers small businesses free audits and low-interest energy loans up to $100,000.

Others offering free audits: the New York State Energy Research and Develop- ment Authority, Louisville Gas and Electric Co. and Indiana's Energy Policy Division.

Good federal options: The U.S. Energy Department offers manufacturers free energy audits through its industrial assessment centers. To find out if you're eligible, visit www.oit.doe.gov/bestpractices and click on "Plant Assessments." The agency also offers various software options to help you analyze your company's energy use. Find it at www.eren.doe.gov/buildings/tools_directory.

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