Making homes more efficient: Local utility companies can help

June 12, 2009

Kristin Mamrack -

 

Local utility companies are urging consumers to take steps necessary to make their homes more energy efficient and are providing resources to help. 

 

A not-for-profit cooperative whose money made is used for infrastructure improvements and upgrades, 4-County Electric Power Association''s first priority is providing reliable service, while helping customers keep down their power costs, said Jon Tuner, marketing representative for 4-County. 

 

"Right now, that means helping them get their homes or businesses more energy efficient, in whatever way suits their needs, abilities and pocketbooks," he explained, noting resources provided by the co-op. 

 

Through a program called PowerPlus Homes, 4-County works with owners and builders of new homes to design and build energy efficient homes and 4-County works with the Tennessee Valley Authority to provide financial incentives to customers who participate in the program. 

 

Additionally, 4-County provides a free home energy audit to its customers -- or "members" -- once a year; during the audit, a marketing services specialist enters the home and provides recommendations for energy-saving measures, such as replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, caulking, sealing, insulation or heating and cooling options. 

 

4-County also is working with TVA on a pilot program to provide a more in-depth home energy evaluation and to give homeowners incentives to make recommended energy-saving improvements. The program likely will begin in the fall. 

 

 

 

Sunblock for homes 

 

"Even before the push for energy efficiency over the last year, we have had several other programs in place," Turner said, referring to the co-op''s Sunscreen program, which helps members get affordable sun-blocking screens on windows receiving direct sun to minimize cooling needed. 

 

Similarly, 4-County offers members affordable financing on energy efficient heat pumps, the use of which is another way for customers to see actual reductions on their energy costs, Turner added. 

 

 

 

Efficiency through education 

 

Through its monthly newsletter -- Today in Mississippi --¬†and a constantly-updated Web site, as well as a series of energy efficiency forums held in each service district, 4-County hopes to emphasize and educate consumers about realistic energy efficient measures that can be taken, specific to customers'' circumstances. 

 

"From our chief executive officer, Allegra Brigham, to our men working the lines and everyone in between, all of our employees make it their job to know something about all of these issues and to help members find answers and information about energy efficiency," said Turner. "Energy efficiency isn''t just doing something; it''s also having an understanding of the process and the reasons behind the push. That''s why education is just as important. It would be like giving someone a complicated piece of equipment, without an instruction guide. They''ll never get as much out of it without the book." 

 

 

 

Buying green energy 

 

Like 4-County, Columbus Light and Water partners with TVA on its Green Power Switch program. 

 

Customers buy 150-kilowatt-hour blocks, which equates to about 12 percent of a typical household''s monthly energy use; TVA uses the funds from the block purchases to buy green energy, in solar, wind and hydro forms. 

 

"Columbus Light and Water tries to keep its customers notified (about energy-saving measures) mainly through local media and newsletters," said CL&W General Manager Todd Gale. "The standard (steps for energy efficiency), like controlling a thermostat and caulking windows, are the best," he added, encouraging customers also to unplug unused items, install compact fluorescent lights and only use dishwasher and washing machines with full loads. 

 

"Customers will have to decide what (energy) payback they are looking for," he continued. "Changing bulbs are less expensive than purchasing a more efficient heat pump, but the paybacks are shorter. Over time, the heat pump may save them more money." 

 

Making a home energy efficient also boosts its resale value. 

 

"As energy costs increase, consumers may begin to ask how efficient is a home or what are the utility bills," Gale predicted of home buyers. "You also have the environmental component."