Being energy efficient saves money, is more comfortable
Tue, 04/23/2019 - 12:38pm admin
—Howard County Energy District sponsored a tour of local solar lighting projects, hosted lunch with speakers
CRESCO - The Howard County Energy District (HCED) hosted an Energy Efficiency Tour on April 5 for local government officials, church leaders, banks and others who might be in a position to help people struggling to pay all of their bills.
The message was simple: Energy efficiency improvements can reduce utility bills and make homes and businesses more comfortable, and there are groups that can provide assistance for little or no cost.
• The 50 attendees toured on two liquid propane-fueled buses rented from Howard-Winneshiek schools. The first visit was to a Cresco home weatherized by Northeast Iowa Community Action (NEICAC). NEICAC’s weatherization team found the home had significant air leakage and several safety issues.
The team sealed leaks, added nearly 1,000 pounds of insulation to attics and walls, applied foam to parts of the house and crawl space, replaced the unsafe water heater and installed fans to help reduce excessive moisture. After all of the work was completed – at no cost to the homeowner – the house is now much less leaky, more energy efficient and comfortable.
In the past five years, NEICAC has weatherized 44 homes in Howard County, spending an average of about $7,800 per home. Unfortunately, Iowa legislative action last year led to significant funding cuts provided by utility companies to the weatherization program. NEICAC will likely not be able to do as many homes in the future.
• The tour’s next stop was at Alum-Line, where Gary Gooder showed the group the company’s new, highly energy efficient facilities, with foam insulation, in-floor heat and all LED lights. Alum-Line has also installed solar panels to help reduce their electric bills and recycles as much of its waste as possible.
The group was very impressed by the business’ accomplishments, including its 2017 Green Manufacturing Award from the National Association of Trailer Body Builders.
As the group was leaving, Mr. Gooder mentioned the spread of private solar has been good for Alum-Line, which has received several orders for trailers purpose-built for solar installers.
• The final stop was at Cresco City Hall, where Public Works Director Rod Freidhof showed how energy efficiency improvements (new air conditioners and LED lights) have reduced the building’s electricity usage from nearly 42,000 kWh in 2010 to about 26,000 kWh in 2018, even with increased usage when the Police Department moved into the building in 2013.
The city estimates that it would now be spending about $6,400 per year for electricity at City Hall without those improvements and the use of solar, while its actual costs in 2018 were slightly over $3,100, saving city taxpayers more than $3,000 at just one building in just one year.
Mr. Freidhof also described the city’s 2015 participation in the City Energy Manager Program (funded by Iowa Economic Development), which helped identify opportunities for energy savings across all of the city departments.
“It was a great program and a huge help to all of the cities that participated,” he said. He also described the city’s use of the B3 Building Benchmarking program, which allows participants to record, analyze and benchmark energy usage in buildings.
• The group, including federal attendees Yeshi Abebe (from Rep. Finkenauer’s office), Justin Jensen (Sen. Ernst) and Matt Rector (Sen. Grassley), listened to some more speakers during the lunch served in the basement of Cresco Bank & Trust.
Amy Bouska, Chair of HCED, again welcomed those attending tour, saying, “Energy efficiency is a no-brainer.” She added it saves money, improves home and office comfort, creates jobs, makes businesses more competitive, reduces pollution and lessens stress on the grid.
“Efficiency does not mean doing without. It can mean turning off the lights . . . or having motion sensors if you have kids,” she joked. She showed a graph that noted U.S. electricity use is now flat, whereas it has been going up for many years. Obviously there is no lack of appliances.
The use shows energy efficiency works, and more individuals are realizing it. Bouska explained, “There are twice as many electric cars, 800, than there were a year earlier.”
• Katherine Hannigan, Green Iowa Americorps, stated the Winneshiek County team is one of seven across Iowa that gives energy audits — a huge no-brainer!
Team members will do safety testing, direct installs (including replacing every lightbulb with LED), seal the home and give an audit report.
The service is free (for Winneshiek County residents or $25 for travel fees outside Winneshiek) to those 65 and older, veterans, disabled and low-to-moderate income home. For those who have to pay, the fee is a very reasonable $125/$150. Some renters can also have their homes/apartments audited.
Hannigan gave a few examples of how an energy audit can save the homeowner or renter money. In one house, the team changed out 65 bulbs for LED, saving $451.94 in electricity. Another house they found mold that could have caused major health issues for the residents. In addition, some heating ducts in the crawl space were not connected, letting heat outside.
• Trisha Wilkins, Executive Director of NEICAC, and David Boss explained how their department can help with fuel assistance, weatherization and other services. Sadly, $200,000 in funding has been cut, leaving fewer people receiving needed help, or receiving less services.
Weatherization help is around $7,800 per homes and those receiving insulation, etc. save an average of $229 per month.
• Larry Grimstad of First Lutheran Church, Decorah told how energy efficiency has saved the congregation thousands of dollars since the board has made improvements.
• Brett Daley, Executive Director of HCED, summed up the day. “We all play a role in energy efficiency. We make connections to get this stuff done.”
HCED is planning a bulb swap in the near future. Check out upcoming Times Plain Dealer articles for more information.