Public utilities all over the country are involved in promoting energy efficiency and cutting the bills of their customers, whether business or residential. Some more examples:
• Energy audits are a popular way for utilities to make a difference. In Westerville, Ohio, for example, the municipal utility's website offers customers a customized online opportunity to explore their energy efficiency and find room for improvement, according to Andrew Boatright, electric utility manager. The company taps into customer billing information to make pertinent recommendations.
• In Columbia, Missouri, the local utility also will provide energy audits, and offers rebates and low-interest loans to help customers implement energy-efficiency improvements. The utility will also send representatives to customers' homes to offer landscaping tips geared toward energy efficiency. Customers even receive a free shade tree to plant in a location that will promote energy savings in the summer. Nebraska's OPPD also offers "a tree promotion program that has provided trees to customers and education on how to best use them for energy efficiency purposes, not to mention carbon sequestration," says Christianson.
• The city of Springfield, Missouri, helps with energy and commercial lighting audits and rebates on various efficiency improvements. It also has replaced thousands of traffic signal lights with efficient and long-lasting LEDs, offers classes to share energy-saving tips, and is helping in the design of a local museum to maximize its energy efficiency.
• In Colorado, the Platte River Power Authority of Fort Collins has been running incentive-based demand-side management programs for several years now, and has offered various energy services for a decade and a half. The "LightenUp" program helps replace inefficient lighting; cooling rebates help customers adopt more efficient air conditioning technology; and the electric efficiency program assists businesses in the midst of new building projects, renovations, expansions, or mechanical upgrades.
• The Long Island Power Authority has multiple programs in place to reduce the demand for electricity. Residential customers can have a programmable thermostat installed for free, and can benefit from rebates on lighting improvements, including the latest cold cathode bulbs. Commercial customers can get advice and financial assistance as they work toward creating Energy Star-labeled structures.
• An appliance calculator provided by the city of Braintree, Massachusetts, helps customers make more informed decisions about the appliances they buy and use. From an online menu, customers can select various appliances from refrigerators to waterbed heaters to light bulbs to fish tanks, then figure out exactly where their energy dollar is going and how much carbon-dioxide is produced in the creation of electricity for each item. Did you know that heating a waterbed creates 125 pounds of carbon dioxide a month, but an electric blanket creates only 15 pounds?
Reducing reliance on traditional electric power is clearly good for the bottom line, but it's also good for the environment. "The `greenest' kilowatt is the one that does not have to be produced," says Christianson. In addition to finding ways to help customers cut their power consumption, public power providers are also exploring the most environmentally friendly ways of producing electricity.
In Riverside, California, the local utility has installed solar panels in several places to lighten the load on its power grid and offer customers less expensive energy. For example, the utility placed panels on the roofs at a low-income apartment complex, according to account manager Clay Monroe of Riverside Public Utilities. For Riverside residents seeking affordable housing, the solar panels are cutting their electric bills by more than half. The utility also uses solar power to cool a senior-citizens center where seniors come in the summer to escape the heat, and it installed panels at a commuter train station.
In Florida, the city of Lakeland owns solar-powered streetlights, has a program to promote solar water heating, and hosts two dozen systems generating solar electricity. In New York, the Solar Pioneer Program of the Long Island Power Authority helps customers install solar, or photovoltaic, panels. Rebates and state tax credits help defray the cost, and it's possible for customers to not only reduce the amount of power they buy from the utility, but to even sell back any excess power their solar panels may generate.
Solar panels help power the Longfellow Magnet School and Mark Twain Elementary, served by the public power provider in Westerville, Ohio, according to Boatright. Westerville also uses solar panels to power school-zone traffic signals. And a $1.2 million demonstration project established an environmentally friendly fuel cell generator capable of cranking out 2 million kilowatt-hours per year.
Fuel cell technology also is on display in Omaha, according to Christianson. "OPPD works with its customer, Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo, to operate an ultra-clean fuel cell that not only provides electricity but helps heat the tropical ponds in the zoo's Lied Jungle, the world's largest indoor rainforest," he says.
Meanwhile, OPPD makes its coal-combustion plants a bit greener by recycling about 135,000 tons of combustion byproduct fly ash each year. "Fly ash is a substitute for Portland cement," says Christianson, "so each ton of ash is a ton of cement that does not have to be dug out of the ground and processed in a very energy-intensive manner."
Some other green-minded activities involving public power providers: • The utility in Columbia, Missouri, has a self-imposed goal of acquiring and/or producing 15 percent of its energy using alternative resources by 2023.
• A fleet of solar-charged vehicles and gas-electric hybrids helps the Platte River Power Authority do its job.
• Silicon Valley Power in California has been recognized with a Green Power Leadership Award from the U.S. Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency. Strong marketing efforts have persuaded many of its customers to sign up for renewable energy. The average customer pays just $7 a month extra for 100 percent green power from wind and solar sources.
• The "Capture the Wind" program of Moorhead Public Service in Minnesota allows customers to buy into wind power generated by a pair of turbines the utility operates. The wind power replaces the portion of participating customers' power that previously was generated by coal combustion, about a third. The remaining two-thirds already is produced through environmentally friendly hydropower generation.
• In Eugene, Oregon, the city's Water & Electric Board promotes solar water heaters for those who use electricity to heat water for homes or swimming pools. The utility can arrange cash discounts of up to $600 for home water heaters and $1,100 for pool water heaters, along with zero-interest loans of up to $4,000. In addition, the state of Oregon offers tax credits of up to $1,500 for this kind of installation.
"The answers for many of our energy challenges will be discovered by our youth," says Christianson. "To encourage students in this area, OPPD initiated the Power Drive program in 1998. The program provides students with hands-on experience and instruction in the area of power and mechanics as they design and build one-person electric vehicles and then compete against each other to see who has produced the most efficient vehicle." The Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) joined in sponsoring the program, along with the Clean Cities program of the U.S. Department of Energy. It has grown to involve some 70 high schools and colleges in Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota.
"The lessons learned in Power Drive are particularly relevant as hybrid vehicles have gone from experimental to commonplace and plug-in hybrids have been promised for public availability by 2009," says Christianson, who adds that the program is "having an impact on a new generation of energy decision-makers."