Long-term conservation will benefit us all

Published 11:25 pm Friday, January 11, 2008

By Staff
Helping out somebody with paying a utility bill is fine.
Helping somebody take small steps to actually reduce that bill forever is a far better solution in the long run.
We don’t argue that short-term assistance, like that provided by the federal government, has a place. Beaufort County will spend about $101,000 in federal money this year in chunks of up to $600 to help people with medical problems avoid getting their power cut off. The program is a safety net.
We have to wonder what spending that same amount would do in the long term to help people curb energy use so that bill doesn’t get out of control.
The City of Washington does not currently have an energy auditing system for residential customers. It will go out and audit larger commercial customers, but at this time the city doesn’t have the money to do energy audits for residential.
The city does however have a link to a web site that gives homeowners the tools to do an audit themselves. It’s not a perfect solution, city officials admit, but it’s something. Even those without Internet access could go to the public library to use the feature, but we wonder how many older people would.
The City of Elizabeth City does offer free energy audits, and City Manager Rich Olson is sold on the concept.
Since Elizabeth City began offering the weatherization program in 2004, Olson said most residents who had free energy audits performed are saving as much as 20 to 30 percent on their electric bills. If their old bill averaged $125 a month, that savings amounts to $300 to $450 a year.
Gordon joined the Elizabeth City utility in March and in less than a year, he has performed a total of 151 energy audits that have helped 331 residents, he said.
Olson said of the 151 audits, 132 were done at owner-occupied single-family residences and 19 were rental units. Of the homes, 63 were occupied by elderly residents, two by disabled people and 86 by families with children.
Olson said the free audits are more popular than ever before.
Many of the homes Gordon and his assistants see are poorly insulated and have cracks in the floors and walls.
Besides showing residents where warm air leaks and cold air enters a home, he often suggests wrapping blankets around hot-water heaters, even replacing the heating systems in some cases, switching from incandescent to fluorescent light bulbs, turning down thermostats at night and turning lights off when leaving a room.
Some of the improvements may be beyond the means of the truly low-income resident. Many of them are not.
Some people don’t know about things like “energy vampires” or “phantom load.” When electronics like TVs, DVD players and cell phone chargers are plugged in but not on, they still draw power. They can result in eight percent of your annual electric bill. That would be something an energy audit would point out.
As budget time rolls around, perhaps an energy audit program is something the City of Washington should consider.