U.S. auto dealerships would save energy and money at their facilities under a new conservation program launched by the National Automobile Dealers Assn. and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The new effort is touted as being good for the environment as well as a way for dealers to realize significant savings on utility bills.

The joint Energy Stewardship Initiative would help dealers find ways to cut energy consumption throughout their operations.

The program provides data, management tools and other means for dealerships to implement improved energy practices and technologies.

It builds on last year's NADA-EPA joint effort to develop and distribute an educational guide for dealers, “Putting Energy into Profits.”

“Dealers are committed to improving energy efficiency in their businesses to protect the environment and reduce overhead costs, and this initiative is a very important step toward that goal,” Dale Willey, NADA's 2007 chairman, says.

Bill Wehrum, an EPA acting assistant administrator, praises dealers for their energy-saving efforts so far.

He says: “America's auto dealers are delivering more than great cars. They are driving energy savings up and costs down, while leading the way to a healthier environment and a stronger economy.”

NADA and the EPA will recognize dealerships that achieve annual energy savings of 10% or higher.

By reducing energy consumption 10% industry-wide, dealerships could save nearly $193 million and prevent more than 1 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

Conservation efforts range from simple practices such as turning lights off at night to installation of modern energy-saving equipment.

For instance, Capitol Honda in San Jose, CA, covered its roof with more than 900 solar panels.

That will reduce energy consumption costs 35%-80%, depending on weather conditions, dealership General Manager Bob Kinney says.

“Choosing solar as an alternative source of power is an environmentally responsible thing to do,” he says.

Meanwhile, two Wisconsin dealerships, Don Jacobs Toyota in Milwaukee and Mike Burkart Ford-Mercury in Plymouth, installed new halide lighting systems at their dealerships, reducing electricity use by 154,000 kilowatt-hours and 46,000 kWh respectively.

“Once you see the cold, hard facts — the energy savings — the decision to change is a no-brainer,” says Mike Burkart.

He says the dealership also recycles waste oil by using it for heat, as recommended by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the EPA.