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Archive for May, 2010

Most energy analysts are saying we haven’t begun to tap the energy saving potential from properly insulating our homes and businesses.  The Public Service Commission measures that savings potential in terms of how many power generating plants we won’t have to build; that’s how many kilowatt-hours we can save.  New nuclear plants, as you know, are running into the billions of dollars.  No new nuke plants need be built if each of us gets a home energy audit and follows up on the recommendations.  Saving a few dollars on your own bill can add up to billions when all ratepayers are in the game.

Last year the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said the combination of renewable energy and energy conservation could avert the need to build any more coal or nuclear plants.  Governments and utilities are ramping up their energy efficiency programs including education, training, funding and hands-on.   But to accomplish the chairman’s goal, every one of us needs to act like we’re in the program.

The City of Orlando and the City Utility (OUC) have stepped up to the challenge by offering a program called POWER (Provide Opportunity for Weatherization, Efficiency and Rehabilitation).  They studied electric usage throughout the territory to determine where a program of improved efficiency might be most cost effective and discovered that homes built between 1945 and 1970 are wasting energy more than homes built in earlier and later periods.  These are primarily the cement block homes usually with flat, black roofs.  Those black roofs are heat sinks and if the homes aren’t well insulated they’ll be leaking cool air while power bills continue high.

Now homeowners in the targeted districts who earn less that 80 percent of metro Orlando’s median income can get assistance upgrading.   Using money from OUC rebate programs and state and federal housing grants, qualifying homeowners can get up to $900 including florescent bulbs, water heaters, windows, insulation and even roof renovations.  The city hopes to cut back wasted energy in as many as 750 homes.  Hopefully when recipients start seeing savings on their utility bills, they’ll tell their neighbors how it’s done.

A few years ago the state legislature amended the rules the Public Service commission uses when requiring utilities to improve the energy efficiency of their customer base.  Regulated utilities are now required to set future conservation goals that take into consideration the effects of greenhouse gases.  With that in mind, a great deal more conservation is going to be necessary!  When utilities presented their five-year, conservation plans to the PSC in November ’09 they were all rejected as not in compliance.  New plans were submitted in April and the PSC said it would try to rule on them by summer.  In the case of Progress Energy, their revised April plan is said to be five times more comprehensive than the previous.  It now includes energy management assistance for low-income customers, rebates for PV and solar hot water and more.  The PSC is going to allow “reasonable” rate increases to implement the plans.

This is good news and we’ll be watching to see how far the PSC will push conservation and how they’ll enforce the goals.  In recent years the PSC has broadened their oversight role to include more than just monitoring rate increases.  For instance, two years ago they presented a Renewable Portfolio Standard to the legislature.  It’s a positive sign that commissioners are listening to the science and the public.  We also have to applaud the republican governor Crist for urging efficiency and renewables on the PSC and replacing those commissioners whose cell phones were on utility automatic.  Let’s hope that the independent governor will carry an even bigger stick.  Remember too that the old Charlie Crist put new, coal-fired plants to rest.

I’ve heard it argued that the federal stimulus money has been a waste.  Perhaps some has.  But the Northeast Florida Community Action Agency (NFCAA) is getting a return on their use of stimulus money.  They say that every dollar of their $1.6 million grant invested in their weatherization program brings $1.67 in reduced energy bills for their Duval county homeowner recipients.  The Agency used to help maybe 60 homeowners a year, but thanks to the stimulus, hundreds will get upgrades of windows, insulation, new air ducts and more.  More jobs are being created here and the result is reduced electricity consumption and greenhouse gases.

The Obama Administration chose Earth Day to announce their “Recovery Through Retrofit” initiative.  Using money from the Recovery Act this program is a partnership with governments and private sector companies to develop innovative programs aimed at retrofitting entire neighborhoods and towns.  Twenty-five communities around the country have been awarded a total of $452 million in competitive grants.  The projects were judged on their potential to make energy efficiency a self-sustaining industry.  About $100 million is expected to be saved annually when all the households and businesses are retrofitted.  The Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance (SEEA) was among the winners and received $20 million for projects it submitted from eight southeastern states.  A project for Celebration, Florida was included in this SEEA proposal.

Improving energy efficiency has always been the first line of defense against the threat of new power plants, rising energy costs, diminishing non-renewable resources and the pollution that has invariably accompanied electricity generation.  But how do you get people to appreciate the importance of insulation, wrapping the hot water tank or installing ceiling fans so you don’t have to keep the air so cold?

The measures I’ve described above are apparently just a part of an unprecedented, nationwide effort to educate citizens through hands-on applications.  To my knowledge, there has never been such a massive undertaking to improve energy efficiency in this country.  It may, and hopefully will, rival programs initiated under Roosevelt such as the Civilian Conservation Corps.  We could be at a turning point in our national consciousness.  Energy conservation is a goal in which we can all participate.

Sam Kendall

sources:

Orlando, OUC Help Energy Wasting Homes

PSC’s Annual Report on Activities Pursuant to the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act

Progress Energy Releases Proposal to Meet PSC Energy Efficiency Requirements

First Coast Weatherization Program Helps Shrink Utility Bills

Biden Kicks off Major Energy Efficiency Project

$20 Million DOE Grant to Benefit SE Energy Efficiency

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