Gain Power Through Knowledge at the Indiana Energy Management Conference

Concerned about rising energy demands and costs? Join experts and colleagues at the Indiana Conference on Energy Management for the latest updates, forecasts and trends regarding energy issues.

Learn how to cut costs while remaining compliant and see what’s coming down the pipeline during the day-and-a-half conference (July 31-August 1) at the Hyatt Regency Indianapolis.

Choose from among 12 sessions and attend two keynote presentations, a roundtable lunch and reception. Browse and network at the concurrent Expo.

The program is ideal for facility and energy managers, plant operations managers, maintenance supervisors, energy aggregators, energy engineers, utility company managers, governmental affairs managers and others.

Session topics include:

  • Real-time energy management
  • Corporate renewable energy in Indiana
  • Demand reduction versus peak shaving
  • Economic benefits of distributed generation
  • What’s next with the Volkswagen Environmental Trust
  • How the dynamic electric utility industry impacts industrial and manufacturing customers
  • Saving energy in compressor systems

Registration is $399 for Chamber members with a special $199 rate for government employees. Register two or more and receive a 20% discount.

The conference is sponsored by Indiana Michigan Power along with Ice Miller, Apex Clean Energy, MacAllister Power Systems, EDF Energy Services, Vectren, Cummins, Inc., Citizens Energy Group, Geronimo Energy, Country Mark and NIPSCO. Additional sponsorship opportunities are available. Contact Jim Wagner at (317) 264-6876 for details.

Preview the complete agendaregister or call (800) 824-6885 for more information.

Guest Blog: College Course Costs Not Always What They Appear to Be

Budgeting for college can be tricky business. Students and families must take into consideration tuition rates, living expenses, books, transportation and more, but even the most diligent financial planners cannot be fully effective when undisclosed costs are imposed.
 
This summer, I enrolled in an online class at Ivy Tech to fulfill a requirement before fall semester. As Ivy Tech reports, undergraduate in-state tuition is $116 per credit hour, so I anticipated a bill of roughly $350 for the course.  However, including fees and homework access, the course has cost roughly $550.
 
Where did the extra $200 go? Roughly half went to mandatory fees including a technology fee and student life fee, which are listed below the tuition chart on Ivy Tech’s web site. The other half purchased access to MyMathLab, an online portal that houses required homework and quizzes. This course is not $116 per credit hour but closer to $183 … and that doesn’t include the book or exam proctor fees.
 
Unfortunately, students (at most, if not all, colleges and universities) are all too familiar with these additional, often hidden, costs of school, both institutional and course-specific. While institution-wide mandatory fees are generally listed on a bill statement, they are not always included in the per-hour tuition figure. Furthermore, course-specific and professor-specific costs – such as access to homework and class participation clickers – are often unknown until the first day of class. For many students, finding a couple hundred more dollars for each class simply is not a financial possibility.
 
But Indiana colleges and universities can make a few minor changes to assist students in their financial planning. First, institutions must make tuition and mandatory fees more transparent by reporting them as one figure. While most institutions combine tuition and fees for estimations of annual cost of attendance, fees are often left out of per credit hour figures, making the tuition rate misleading and confusing to students. Second, professors should report any additional fees required for their classes at the time of enrollment to allow students to make the best financial decision for them.
 
As college costs continue to rise, students and families must have accurate and complete information to effectively budget. Transparency in all fees will help them financially prepare for school.

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Hannah Rozow is the student representative on the Indiana Commission for Higher Education. A senior at Indiana University in Bloomington, she is pursuing a double major in economics and political science with a minor in Spanish.

Gas Discounts Could (Slightly) Ease Pain at the Pump

This gas price situation is a real downer. I haven’t been this depressed about something since Duane Bickett left the Colts in 1994.

It not only directly takes more money out of commuters’ pockets, but it also causes the costs of transporting goods to skyrocket, which of course gets passed on to consumers. It’s madness, I say. But the Indy Star ran a report today showing what types of gas discounts are available at some Hoosier businesses.

Costco
Members who use the Costco American Express co-branded credit card to buy gas at Costco stations receive 3 percent back at the end of the year. The cash reward can be redeemed at Costco.

Kroger
Kroger lets consumers accumulate fuel points on their loyalty cards in 100-point increments. Each 100 points is worth 10 cents off a gallon of gas. There are three ways to earn 100 points. Buy $100 in the store, fill two qualifying prescriptions in the pharmacy or buy $50 in gift cards.

You can accumulate up to 1,000 points and get up to $1 off per gallon of gas up to 35 gallons.

Use a Kroger-branded Visa card and get 5 cents off per gallon on top of that.

The grocer also has a partnership with Shell stations. Customers can use Kroger points there by swiping their loyalty card but can redeem only 100 points at a time. So 10 cents off per gallon is the maximum.

Meijer
Use a Meijer store credit card or Meijer-branded MasterCard and get 5 cents off per gallon. There are limited-time promotions when that discount is bumped up to 10 cents per gallon. Occasionally, store purchases generate a free gas coupon at the checkout for $2 or more off.

Ricker’s
Sign up for the loyalty program and receive up to 10 cents off every gallon of gas. You have to be at least 18 years old and have a U.S. checking account and an active email address. The cards are used like a debit card and are linked to your checking account. To get the fuel discount, you must pay with the loyalty card.

Sam’s Club
Members receive 5 cents off per gallon at Sam’s Club fuel centers.

Shell
Use a Shell MasterCard and receive a 5 percent rebate on fuel purchased.

Speedway
Earn points on a membership card by making purchases. For example, receive 20 points per $1 spent, excluding restricted items, for purchases of food, drink and merchandise. Also receive 10 points per gallon of fuel purchased. Customers can redeem the points for discounts on gas. Earn 1,750 and receive 10 cents off per gallon; 4,375 and earn 25 cents off; 8,750 and earn 50 cents off.

Swifty
This one’s easy. Pay with cash and get 3 cents off per gallon.

Walmart
Buy a Walmart gas gift card and save 3 cents per gallon. Any amount from $10 to $1,000 can be added to the card. In some cases, consumers who use their Walmart store-branded credit card to buy gas will get 5 cents off per gallon.

Small Businesses: Avoid These Mistakes When Buying Health Benefits

It’s a tough world out there for small businesses. That’s one of the big reasons Chambers like ours exist, I suppose. But in recent years, the burdens of health insurance have grown remarkably, often being a key reason some have had to close their doors. So here’s a valuable blog from Forbes about the top 10 mistakes small businesses make when buying health benefits. Here’s the list, but read the full article for more detail:

  1. They fail to hire a qualified agent, broker or consultant to help.
  2. When selecting an agent, broker or consultant, they rush through the interviews.
  3. They fail to decide in advance what they can afford.
  4. They do not research the market.
  5. They release their employees’ personal information while shopping.
  6. They’re afraid of high-deductible medical plans.
  7. They offer their employees “free” benefits.
  8. They forget to make parts of the plan optional.
  9. They are careless when discussing healthcare options with employees.
  10. They enjoy shopping for health care plans too much.

 

Ball State Geothermal Project Heats Up Reputation Even More

Considering my boss is a proud Ball State alum (actually, both of my bosses are) and he’s editor of BizVoice magazine, it’s no wonder I’ve gotten quite a few Cardinal-oriented story assignments in the last few years. However, the writing has really opened my eyes as to what an innovative institution the state has up in Muncie. While Ball State’s main claims to fame center around telecommunications and technology, their latest endeavor is in the field of on-campus energy production. Here’s text from a release from the school on its new geothermal program, and you can also read about its early stages in the July/August 2009 BizVoice:

In the shadow of two outdated smokestacks and four antiquated coal-fired boilers, Ball State has started the second and final phase of converting the university to a geothermal ground-source heat pump system – the largest project of its kind in the United States.

The conversion, started in 2009 to replace the coal boilers, now provides heating and cooling to nearly half the campus. This phase of the project will be dedicated in March.

When the system is complete, the shift from fossil fuels to a renewable energy source will reduce the university’s carbon footprint by nearly half while saving $2 million a year in operating costs.

Ball State is installing a vertical, closed-loop district system that uses only fresh water. The system uses the Earth’s ability to store heat in the ground and water thermal masses. A geothermal heat pump uses the Earth as either a heat source, when operating in heating mode, or a heat sink, when operating in cooling mode.

Under the direction of Jim Lowe, director of engineering, construction and operations, work has begun on Phase 2, which includes installation of 780 of the remaining 1,800 boreholes in a field on the south area of campus.

Construction will continue throughout 2013-2014 and will include a new District Energy Station South containing two 2,500-ton heat pump chillers and a hot water loop around the south portion of campus. The system will then connect to all buildings on campus – eventually providing heating and cooling to 5.5 million square feet.

"When costs began to escalate for the installation of a new fossil fuel burning boiler, the university began to evaluate other renewable energy options," Lowe says. "This led to the decision to convert the campus to a more efficient geothermal-based heating and cooling system."

The project has caught the attention of universities and communities across the nation. Lowe is sharing information about the university’s new operation with others who want learn how they too can benefit from a geothermal system.

Survey: Healthcare Benefit Costs Rising for Hoosiers

Nyhart, Indiana’s largest independent actuarial and employee benefits consulting firm, released the results of the 2011 Indiana Healthcare Benefit Survey Tuesday at the Indiana Chamber’s 2011 Indiana Employee Benefits Seminar. The survey reached 215 employers across the state reflecting the benefit plans of 170,000+ Hoosier workers.

Findings include:

  • Healthcare benefit costs increased 6.9% (single coverage) and 8% (family coverage) in 2011.
  • The typical Hoosier is paying $105/mo. for single coverage and $417/mo. for family coverage. Indiana employers provide an average subsidy of $364/mo. for single coverage and $915/mo. for employees with family coverage.
  • For 2011, nearly one in five employers increased their deductible. Employees of those companies saw their deductible rise by 49 on average%.
  • Healthcare benefit costs are higher costs for Hoosiers than the national average.
  • When faced with a choice of cutting back benefits or shifting costs to employees, 44% of employers favor reducing benefits to maintaining cost levels while 18% favor passing cost increases on to employees.

“The survey reinforced what we’ve been observing in our practice – that employers are shifting to high deductible plans and looking for ways to put more of the healthcare costs on the shoulders of their employees as costs continue to escalate,” said healthcare actuary and lead researcher Randy Gomez, FSA. “The study of the survey confirms that in the future healthcare benefits will be treated as a commodity.”
 
The study was conducted in partnership with First Person Benefit Advisors, Gregory & Appel Insurance and Old National Insurance. The executive summary of the survey is available to all businesses for download online at www.nyhart.com/research/. Companies seeking to receive the entire 80+ page report including benchmarks by industry, geographic region and employee-count may do so if they commit to participating in the 2012 survey.

Health Care Talk in Washington and Closer to Home

(Guest blogger Daniel F. Evans is president and CEO of Clarian Health. He shared insights on incentives last week and will soon be offering an additional posting.)

I’d like to use this blog entry to comment on two events related to health care reform that took place Wednesday, though they differed dramatically in scale and attention received.  First, President Obama spoke to a joint session of Congress and the American people about health care.  As is usually the case, the president’s oratory was powerful and compelling.  He presented a strong case for reform. 

But his speech was disappointingly short on specifics on the question that I believe matters most – namely, how we change the incentives in our health care delivery system to support higher quality, more efficient and coordinated patient care delivered by trained medical professionals. The speech provided a lot of detail regarding how to expand insurance coverage to those who don’t have it and to protect those who currently have insurance from losing it when they need it most.  But it was very vague about how to pay for these reforms, and it was largely silent on changing the model of how health care is provided.  Nor did it contain any reference to the responsibility we all must take on for our own health and health care choices. In that sense, I believe it was a lost opportunity to advance a critical element of real and lasting health care reform.

Earlier in the day, the Indiana Health Industry Forum sponsored a thoughtful and expansive discussion of health care reform here in Indianapolis. Participants had the chance to hear from a number of experts on key elements of the various reform proposals under consideration in Washington. The panelists were informative and interesting, and reminded us of just how complex and challenging reform is going to be. 

Can we have lower costs but still support medical innovation? Do we have enough health care workers to provide care for the patients who will enter the health care system as insurance coverage is expanded? Can a system really designed to treat episodes of acute care adjust to provide a continuum of care for the chronically ill? 

All are fascinating and important questions without easy answers. Panelists also reminded us that reform will be an ongoing issue and will not be “finished” even if major legislation passes this year. To give just one example, the Medicare program has unfunded liabilities of more than $30 trillion. This is obviously not sustainable, so additional changes to the program will be necessary over time to keep it from swallowing our entire economy. Health care “reform” will be with us for many years to come, as our society continues to grapple with the challenge of paying for the care we want and need.

Three’s a Charm with Manchester College Guarantee

Manchester College, in North Manchester, offered a "triple guarantee" Tuesday regarding what it can offer its students. During the announcement, President Jo Young Switzer offered the following educational trifecta for the private college’s incoming students:

1. Financial aid for all full-time students, and full tuition for academically strong low-income students who live in Indiana

2. Graduation within four years for all full-time students or receive free tuition for credits you need to graduate in five years

3. A job or post-graduate school within six months of graduation, or return for a full year tuition-free

“As families work hard to find money for college, those of us at Manchester continue our commitment to open the doors of a college education to students, to offer class schedules and advising and support so they can graduate in four years, and to prepare students for careers and jobs after college.”

Earlier this year, I featured the school’s Fast Forward program in BizVoice, which outlines how the college is offering an accelerated path to graduation for students who qualify. Pretty encouraging, as Manchester’s efforts show the importance of forward-thinking in a world that desperately needs answers to the tough questions proposed by the nation’s educational challenges.

Breakfast Tour Headed to Fort Wayne

Our next stop on the Breakfast with Brinegar circuit is in Fort Wayne. We encourage our members and interested non-members to attend our August 7 program at the Hilton Garden Inn.  Kevin Brinegar, president of the Indiana Chamber, will discuss Chamber programs and services and you will have an opportunity to network with our northeast Indiana Chamber members.
 
Ryan Beck, the Allen County Territory Manager of the Indiana Chamber, thinks this is a great opportunity for businesses to learn about membership resources and to use them to generate new business and to save money during a tough economy.

"In just 60 minutes you have the chance to network with local businesses and to learn about our free customized sales leads and free HR HELPLINE," Beck explains. "Most businesses need a shot in the arm right now and we have a number of resources to help them."
 
The breakfast is free for Indiana Chamber members and $19 for non-members. The program begins at 8 a.m. and will last one hour.  Please contact Abby Hamilton at (317) 264-3793 or [email protected] to RSVP.