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Barbara Helm says she wasn’t aiming to save the environment. She just wanted to save on energy bills and make her Klamath Falls home more comfortable.
Yet, by joining hundreds of thousands of other Oregon families and business owners participating in Energy Trust of Oregon’s energy-efficiency and renewable energy programs, Helm is helping to keep Oregon’s air clean and build a sustainable energy future.
As our state’s population continues to grow, the demand for energy grows with it, and Energy Trust plays an increasingly important role in helping utilities serve that demand at the lowest possible cost. It’s a matter of simple economics: Saving energy costs less than building new fossil fuel power plants—one-quarter the cost for electricity and half the cost for natural gas. But it’s also a matter of supplying clean energy resources that have less impact on the environment, whether by improving homes and businesses with energy-saving upgrades or by generating renewable energy with solar and geothermal energy.
Helm’s step into sustainability all started with a trip to a community energy workshop last fall. She hoped to get some ideas for improving the 1970s home that she and her husband, Steve, have owned for nearly 20 years. She suspected it needed more insulation.
“In winter, our heating system ran a lot,” explains Helm. “And in summer, the house was always hot. The heat would build up all day, and by the time the sun went down, it was really hot.”
At the energy workshop, a representative from Energy Trust explained how the independent nonprofit organization offers cash incentives, information and services to help Oregonians manage their energy costs and make their homes more comfortable year-round.
Inspired by what she heard, Helm was motivated to sign up right then for a free Home Energy Review from Energy Trust.
Working with their schedule, an Energy Trust energy advisor visited the Helms’ house and conducted a walkthrough, visually assessing insulation levels, appliances, the heating system and other areas where homeowners often lose energy dollars.
“The advisor pointed out simple things we could do right away to save energy. He switched some of our light bulbs to compact fluorescent lights and encouraged us to do that throughout our house,” says Helm. “He also looked in the attic and saw we needed more insulation, and he told us there was no insulation at all in the crawlspace under our floors.”
Motivated and armed with solid information, the Helms took action.
They first tackled simple do-it-yourself steps such as installing more CFLs (which ENERGY STAR® estimates use about 75 percent less energy and last up to 10 times longer than incandescent light bulbs) and outlet plug covers to block air leaks. Then they hired Win-R Insulation, Inc., one of 1,300 Energy Trust trade ally contractors throughout the state, to add more insulation to their attic and install floor insulation in their cold crawlspace.
“It was a really fast and easy process,” says Helm. “And the money we got back from Energy Trust covered almost half the cost of the project. I’m looking for a job right now, and so with just one income, the incentive made it so we could afford to do this.”
But did all the effort make a difference? What about results?
“The insulation has made a huge difference. The house is comfortable now. The floors are nice and warm. And the heat isn’t running all the time, so it’s really cut our energy bills. We’re saving between $60 and $80 a month,” says Helm, who also anticipates a cooler house during sweltering days this summer.
Take the Helms’ energy savings and multiply it by all of the hundreds of thousands of other energy-efficiency and renewable energy upgrades supported by Energy Trust around the state, and you start to glimpse the positive impact this approach is having on Oregon’s economy and environment.
“By helping Oregonians save energy and tap renewable resources, we have saved and generated enough clean energy to power more than 292,000 homes—that’s more households than in Bend, Redmond, Prineville, Medford, Ashland, Roseburg and Klamath Falls combined—and to heat another 35,000 homes with natural gas,” reports Margie Harris, executive director, Energy Trust.
Harris explained that by investing in incentives and services that help Oregonians become more energy efficient—the lowest cost way to serve our growing energy demand— Energy Trust delivers sustainable economic benefits for Oregon:
• Since 2002, Energy Trust participants have saved nearly $800 million on energy bills as a result of energy-saving upgrades.
• Every dollar invested by Energy Trust to help Oregonians save energy will save four dollars in costs that would have been required to generate, store, deliver and purchase an equivalent amount of energy—these “avoided costs” would otherwise be borne by utility customers in the form of higher rates.
• Energy-saving actions supported by Energy Trust over the last nine years will save utility customers approximately $1.8 billion in avoided costs. By 2015, those savings are expected to rise to $2.5 billion.
• Energy Trust programs to motivate and assist Oregonians with energy solutions are estimated to have created more than 2,400 Oregon jobs, and stimulated approximately $80 million in wages and $12 million in new-business income.
“Plus, we’re helping to keep Oregon air clean,” Harris points out. “Since 2002, when Energy Trust started, we have offset more than six million tons of carbon dioxide that would have been generated by fossil fuels. For the quality of air we breathe, that’s equivalent to taking more than one million cars off the road for a year.”
Energy Trust gives another boost to the economy by helping businesses improve their bottom lines through lower energy costs—while also reducing their carbon footprints. McMenamins Hotels & Pubs is one company doing just that by committing to advanced energy-saving kitchen technology.
McMenamins Old St. Francis School in Bend earned more than $9,000 in Energy Trust incentives for purchasing energy-efficient kitchen equipment that’s saving approximately 4,000 therms of natural gas and 35,000 kilowatt hours of electricity each year.
“If equipment is durable and can stand up to the pressures we put it through, then it just make sense to choose energy-efficient and ENERGY STAR® certified models,” says Scott Lipscomb, environmental coordinator, McMenamins. “The Energy Trust incentives were icing on the cake on top of the long-term energy savings we’ll achieve.”
For many other businesses, lighting retrofits represent the best first step to take toward energy savings. They are generally fast, easy projects that offer a quick payback.
Barry Hurd, owner of Delta Waters Car Wash in Medford, is one of many business owners who have taken advantage of Energy Trust lighting incentives. Hurd thought his old lighting was too dark and made his place feel unsafe at night. New, energy-efficient lighting made for a more positive customer experience. The energy savings paid back his investment in just over a year; the improved atmosphere is saving more than $700 in energy costs annually.
“We’re very happy with the change in light at the car wash, and we’re reaping the benefits of more business at night,” says Hurd. “We’re pleased we’re saving money on power and helping to save our environment. We love to be green and think everyone should try and do the same. If we all used compact fluorescent lights in our homes that would be a great start.”
Encouraging New Sustainable Buildings
The owners of Mountain Laurel Lodge in Bend expanded their focus far beyond energy-efficient lighting. Thanks to help from Energy Trust incentives for new construction, Mountain Laurel was built as one of the most sustainable retirement communities in Oregon.
Residents at Mountain Laurel are proud that the place they call home boasts high levels of insulation, energy-efficient windows and appliances, and two different solar systems—an 18.4-kilowatt solar electric system and an 80-gallon solar water heating system. Both were made possible with Energy Trust cash incentives and state tax credits. The solar systems serve the facility’s common areas, minimizing utility costs to help keep rent affordable. Residents, as well as visiting school groups, can monitor monthly energy output at a special Website and can easily observe the system’s electronics on-site.
“Tapping into solar energy creates awareness that everyone must be more concerned about sustainability,” says Rob Roy, Pacific Crest Affordable Housing, LLC, which built and owns Mountain Laurel Lodge and other affordable housing developments. "We were so pleased with the outcome that we’ve installed solar PV and thermal systems on two more of our affordable-housing communities and have another installation planned for the fall.”
Solar also plays a big role at the Les Schwab Tire Centers headquarters, which was constructed in Bend in 2008.
The 123,000-square-foot office building was built for high performance. It uses significantly less energy than a building of similar type and size built to Oregon energy code. A robust solar electric system generates enough electricity to power a significant portion of the building. As a result of energy saved and generated, the company is pocketing an additional $35,000 in annual energy cost savings. Such stellar performance is the direct result of energy-efficient and renewable technologies, made affordable with Energy Trust cash incentives.
Among the building’s cutting-edge features is a heat recovery system that captures waste heat from the computer data center and transfers it to an ice melt system that keeps building entryway sidewalks clear of snow and ice in winter. To reduce energy use during spring and summer months, the building’s HVAC system goes into “night flush” mode, using 100 percent outside air to pre-cool the building before employees arrive for work. The company cuts down further on air conditioning with operable windows to let in cool breezes and sunshades to reduce heat gain and glare.
The building lighting control system saves energy by dimming perimeter lighting zones to take advantage of natural light, and occupancy sensors control 80 percent of all the building’s lights. Taken together, these upgrades result in electric savings of about 384,000 kWh every year.
“Building for high performance just makes sense. It reduces operating costs, provides a more comfortable work environment for our employees and demonstrates our commitment to being a good neighbor in local communities. Incentives from Energy Trust made the energy-efficient strategies financially viable,” says Dick Borgman, chief executive officer, Les Schwab.
The Les Schwab headquarters is just one of more than 300,000 residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural and public sector sites Energy Trust has served since 2002.
Some who have joined the movement to energy efficiency and a more sustainable energy future likely learned about Energy Trust from satisfied customers like Barbara Helm, the Klamath Falls homeowner.
“I spread the word,” says Helm. “I’ve told everyone I know about the Energy Trust incentives and the free Home Energy Review. It’s a great investment of an hour of your time, and you can gather so much information to start saving energy.”
What is Energy Trust of Oregon?
In 1999, Oregon lawmakers and citizens envisioned a future with Oregon homes and businesses powered by clean, affordable energy. They established stable, consistent funding to help Oregonians invest in energy efficiency and renewable resources. A new nonprofit organization—Energy Trust of Oregon—was created to help lead the way. Energy Trust began operation in March 2002, and is funded by and serves Oregon customers of Portland General Electric, Pacific Power, and Cascade Natural Gas, and Oregon and Washington customers of NW Natural. Thanks in part to Energy Trust’s work to help Oregonians embrace energy efficiency across the state, in 2010 Oregon was ranked the third most energy-efficient state in the nation on the annual scorecard issued by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.
Get help and cash incentives for your energy-saving investment
If you’re a residential customer of Pacific Power, Cascade Natural Gas, NW Natural or Portland General Electric, you can get cash incentives on a wide variety of qualifying energy-efficient appliances and home upgrades, including:
• ENERGY STAR® clothes washers, dishwashers, refrigerators or freezers
• Refrigerator/freezer recycling
• Water heaters
• Weatherization, including sealing duct leaks and adding insulation
• Heating and cooling systems
• Solar electric and solar water heating systems
An online Home Energy Profile or free Home Energy Review are good ways to get started and figure out where your home would benefit the most from energy-saving improvements.
Find more information, including a list of all residential and business incentives and trade ally contractors to help you do the work, at www.energytrust.org or call 1-866-368-7878.
Theresa Hagerty is a native Oregonian who has written about energy issues for more than 12 years.
Story by Theresa Hagerty