Energy Savings Blog

Community Solar in the News

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

 

Check out this article by the Rocky Mountain Institute (sent in by a member) about the benefits of large-scale community renewable energy.  It’s a good overview of a complicated concept, and also a look at how other communities are approaching this.  Currently, our Member Owned Renewable Energy (M.O.R.E.) committee is reviewing options for San Juan County.

Community Solar: A Cost-Effective Bridge away from Net Metering?

Want more information?  Check out our Renewable Generation page!

Energy Upgrades are Always in Season

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016

Summertime looms, and for us Pacific Northwesterners, there are still plenty of cool days until we get to midsummer. Regardless of the time of year, You can make your home or business more energy efficient when you undertake projects aimed at improving lighting, weatherization, and home ventilation. The Community Energy Challenge (CEC) is all about improving our energy use, and took direct aim at saving energy and money.

In 2015 alone, the CEC helped with 38 energy upgrade projects affecting 26 homes in San Juan County. Homeowners took advantage of everything from duct sealing, weather stripping, new ductless heat pumps, ventilation improvements, and wall, attic and floor insulation. The homes and businesses were able to realize an average annual utility bill savings of $520.

The whole program was made possible by more than $76K in CEC incentive contributions, OPALCO energy savings rebates, and San Juan Conservation District non-electric grant funds. Also, the CEC commercial program, operated by Sustainable Connections, completed energy upgrades for 9 county businesses. Those improvements tackled lighting, heating, and weatherization.

Who paid for all this? CEC contributed $10,780 in project incentives and OPALCO rebates added another $3,647.

Need to know more about how these programs can help our low-income members? Call ……. And we can help you find programs and incentives that fit your home or business.

Energy Efficiency and the OPALCO Annual Meeting

Friday, May 13th, 2016

The OPALCO Annual Meeting has the primary function the electing of the Directors to the Board and approving any bylaw amendments. And the occasion also brings a number of guests and supporting agencies that have everything to do with Energy Savings and all the programs related to energy efficiency.

At this year’s meeting, the 79th for OPALCO, we were joined by the team at San Juan Conservation District, the Community Energy Challenge, and the OPALCO Energy Savings Team. You may have met the folks working in our county to promote energy savings through weatherization and other programs when they were handing out low-energy night lights and “solar” clothes dryers.

And speaking of programs, here’s a snapshot of how to get started with your energy savings projects.

Energy Efficiency BoardGame

If you didn’t get to the 2016 Annual Meeting to learn how these programs have already saved energy and members’ money, keep an eye on this site for upcoming meetings and events geared towards Energy Savings.

Next post will talk about the Community Energy Challenge(CEC) successes. Check back soon to read more.

May I have the Envelope, please?

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

Why you should consider weatherizing your home now

Home EnvelopeA building envelope is what separates conditioned and unconditioned space.  It performs the important job of keeping heat, cold, and moisture from transferring directly through your walls, foundation, and roof.  Like a cozy coat, hat, and socks for your home, appropriate levels of insulation and properly sealed air leaks will reduce your heating requirements and improve overall comfort level.  Paired with an efficient heating and cooling system like a ductless heat pump, you’ll cut down significantly on energy waste.

But wait…it’s summertime. Why think about heating, coats and hats when it’s warm outside?

Here are 3 good reasons to consider weatherization home improvements now:

1) Residential rebates for weatherization are going down October 1, 2015

OPALCO offers rebates funded by BPA’s Energy Efficiency Incentive program.  BPA constantly evaluates the region’s energy savings potential and adjusts incentives accordingly.  Effective October 1, 2015, the current rebate levels for insulation, windows, air sealing, and duct sealing will be cut nearly in half.  If you’re already thinking about making these upgrades, act now to benefit from the higher rebate levels.

2) Gains in improved comfort also apply to warm temperatures

Have you ever spent an extended amount of time in an unconditioned space like a garage, shed, or barn?  In the summer, it was probably warm and stuffy in there.  This is true for your home, too.  Improving the building envelope of your home helps keep you cooler and improves ventilation and moisture levels year round – even when temperatures are high.

3) Supply and demand

Many people wait to take action when their house feels drafty, their energy consumption is higher, and the temperatures are already dropping.  If you get ahead of the winter rush for weatherization work, you can prevent energy waste before it happens.  You may also have better access to lower costs of materials and higher availability of qualified contractors.

To create a plan for reducing your home’s energy waste or for more information about OPALCO rebates, visit our website or contact our Energy Savings staff (Lindsay) at 376-3500.

Amy Saxe, OPALCO Manager of Member Services & Energy Savings

The 2015 Island Energy Fairs are coming!

Monday, May 18th, 2015

Members of all ages learn to save energy.

Want to test drive an Electric Vehicle (EV), tour solar homes, and learn about the latest ways to save energy?

OPALCO invites you to join us at the Energy Fairs.

This is an interesting and fun way to understand the sources of electric power and to be aware of your own personal energy usage habits and savings options. The OPALCO Energy Savings team, the M.O.R.E. (Member Owned Renewable Energy) committee, and Islands Energy will be participating. In addition to energy efficiency and conservation workshops, there will be free kids activities, raffle prizes, and much more!

Comparing the energy consumption of different kinds of lights.

Comparing the energy consumption of different kinds of lights.

The Island Energy Fairs represent a community collaboration between San Juan Islands Conservation District and OPALCO.

San Juan Island Energy Fair

Saturday, May 30 from 10am-3pm
At the Mullis Community Center

Orcas Island Energy Fair

Saturday, June 6 from 10am-3pm
At the Eastsound Village Green

Lopez Island Energy Fair

Saturday, June 27 from 10am-3pm
At the Lopez Center for Community and the Arts

Highlights include:

  • Free energy savings kits
  • A light bulb exchange (bring any number of incandescent bulbs and up to 10 expired CFLs to exchange for 3 new 60W equivalent standard LED bulbs)
  • Demonstrations of electric vehicles
  • Information about home energy audits and locally generated power
  • Information about OPALCO efficiency rebate programs
  • Local contractor booths
  • Details about planned Community Solar projects
  • Energy keynote speakers

 

Kids checking out a Nissan Leaf Electric Vehicle

Kids checking out a Nissan Leaf Electric Vehicle

Learn about Solar Energy for your home

Annual Report – Win a $50 Bill Credit

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

OPALCO’s 2015 Annual Report is ready for your reading pleasure. We want you to know who we are and what we are up to. So much so, in fact, that if you read the report and take the Treasure Hunt quiz, we’ll enter you to win a $50 bill credit. Go for the gold!

Rep. Jeff Morris on Appliance Efficiency and Coal Plant Exit Strategy

Monday, April 6th, 2015

 

WA Representative Jeff Morris shared some recent state legislative action, with these highlights:

1) Appliance Efficiency

The 2015 House of Representatives passed Rep. Morris’ bill to set higher efficiency standards for appliances sold in Washington. House Bill 1100 will require appliances to be manufactured with better energy saving mechanisms in order to be sold in Washington. Inefficient appliances waste energy – costly for Washington families and our environment.

California has already established higher efficiency standards. If we don’t catch up, Washington could become a dumping ground for low-efficiency, outdated appliances that manufacturers can’t sell in other states.

His bill is now sent on to the Senate, where he hopes for speedy passage.

2) Creating an ‘Exit Strategy’ for Coal Plants

Morris also introduced a bill that would give state utility companies a pathway for closing down coal plants and phasing out coal-fired energy generation.

Despite state, federal and consumer pressures, the transition for utility companies to end coal energy generation is more complicated than simply closing coal plants. Market instability and financial burden caused by the removal of a large energy source eventually falls on consumers, which could escalate rates for those now dependent on coal.

Morris says,“If we expect our utility companies to end their use of coal, we need to give them a viable exit strategy that protects consumers.”

His proposed legislation wouldn’t force the closure of any plants and instead provides a cost-effective pathway for utilities to do it themselves.

Note that many states with low-cost electricity, like West Virginia, burn cheap, dirty coal. This chart of carbon footprints clearly demonstrates that hydro power carbon footprint is about 250 times cleaner than coal. OPALCO electricity comes primarily from very clean, renewable hydro power, as shown in the 2013 Fuel Mix report.

Energy Carbon Footprint

WA Representative Jeff Morris represents the 40th Legislative District that includes San Juan County and parts of Skagit and Whatcom Counties.  Jeff has been a strong leader on energy initiatives, including energy efficiency and renewable energy policy. 

For more information about both bills, click here.  To learn more about ways you can improve the energy efficiency of your home (including upgrading to efficient appliances), visit our OPALCO Energy Savings website.

Saving Energy with Compact Space Heaters

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

OPALCO space heater

The Envi compact space heater

The heating season is here and we want to stay warm! Space heaters can be an excellent supplemental heat source for keeping warm without running up your electric bill. The idea is to heat the space you are in, rather than the whole house, and choose a heater best designed for that space.

Electric space heaters have been deemed safest for indoor heating, and can be broken down into two types: convection and radiant heaters.

Convection heaters contain a sealed heat transfer liquid, such as oil, that is warmed by an electric heating element. Often they have fans that help circulate the warm air in a room. They are very energy efficient for heating a larger room for a short period of time.

Radiant heaters reflect heat using an infrared technology, and are most effective in smaller spaces for a short period. The best heaters on the market use a combination of convection and radiant heat. These space heaters are referred to as panel heaters. They blend approximately 80% of the convection technology with 20% of radiant. They are highly energy efficient and warm larger spaces quickly and quietly.

When selecting a model, pay extra attention to the wattage.  Energy saving models use 400-600 watts (3-5 cents/hour), depending on the size.  Some commonly used space heaters can use up to 1500 watts (or 13 cents/hour) to operate!

We have received excellent member feedback for the American built Envi wall mounted heater. These are commonly installed in bathrooms and bedrooms where it keeps the area a consistent, comfortable temperature.  Here are some benefits Envi heaters offer:

Safe – the Envi has a cool-to-the-touch exterior that is barely above room temperature.  The built-in thermostat allows the unit to turn off when a comfort level is reached.  The Envi heater also has an enhanced thermal cut-off that quickly shuts down the heater if the air vents are blocked. It is made from crack-resistant materials that make hairline cracking a thing of the past.

Healthy & Quiet – Using a pure convection design, the Envi operates without moving parts and distributes air without the use of a fan. It is hypoallergenic and will not circulate dust or allergens, or dry out the air. It is completely silent and also features an auto dimming power light.

Simple & Stylish – The Envi installs on your wall in minutes using a simple 3-step process. No hassle – just warm air delivered by a slim, sleek and stylish heater – only 2 inches thin.  It can be ordered online, with a few options, including hard-wired, or plug-in to a wall outlet.  It can also be paired with a programmable external thermostat.  This is a great option for a bathroom, as you can set it to warm the bathroom before you get up in the morning, and then ease back during the day, while you’re away.

EconomicalEnvi High-Efficiency Whole Room Electric Panel Heaters are $139.95.

To learn more about the Envi heaters, visit eheat.com.  For other efficient wall-mounted heating options, you may also want to check out convectair.com and econo-heat.com.

 

Help island kids learn about solar energy

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

Community-Solar-for-Schools

click to enlarge

It’s good to be exposed to environmental issues at a young age. Giving kids hands-on experiences helps them understand the importance of living sustainably and how easy it can be to make a difference.

Community Solar for Our Schools is a collaborative project – developed by Islands Energy, administered by the San Juan Islands Conservation District, and sponsored and supported by OPALCO and Bonneville Environmental Foundation. The project will generate renewable solar energy for San Juan County public schools, reducing the schools’ electricity costs (all the energy generated will be donated to the school districts) – and providing tremendous educational opportunities.

Solar for Four Island Schools

Four solar arrays will be installed at the public school districts on Lopez, Orcas, San Juan, and Shaw Islands. Bonneville Environmental Foundation will provide educational curriculum, materials, and teacher training through their Solar 4R Schools Program, to support the schools’ science programs.

Middle-school girls build a solar-powered Lego lawnmower in Science class

Middle-school girls build a solar-powered Lego lawnmower in Science class

The total cost is anticipated to be $200,000. Member participants will provide $140,000, and Bonneville Environmental Foundation and OPALCO will make up the difference. There will be no cost to the school districts for the purchase or installation of the solar arrays. Member contributions to date are over $70,000, including local businesses community organizations.  The Orcas Island Odd Fellows contributed $10,000; the Orcas Island Lions Club contributed $500.

Contributions Can Be Treated As Micro-Loan

San Juan County residents and businesses residing in the OPALCO service territory can participate by purchasing 1 to 100 solar units. Each solar unit (approximately 50 Watts) costs $100, and each participant can purchase up to 100 solar units (5 kW for $20,000). Participants will receive annual energy production incentive payments through 2024 (at a rate of $.30 per kW hour).  It is estimated that these incentives will pay back participants for the cost of the solar units purchased within 10 years.  In other words, your loans help kick-start the program, and you receive payments back each year.

Solar for our schools is a concept coming to life. The energy is there, the students are eager to learn, and installation is slated for Spring 2015. Please consider contributing. There are three ways to sign up:

1) Email solar@sjislandscd.org

2) Online www.sjislandscd.org

3) Call the San Juan Islands Conservation District at 378-6621

To read about other local renewable education projects OPALCO has sponsored, click the links below:

 

Energy Upgrades on a Budget

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

OPALCO energy rebates

Worth replacing? One of the old single-pane windows that energy auditors have recommended replacing. The homeowner wonders where to put that on his priority list.

If your intention is to improve the comfort and energy efficiency of your home, but your house is old, has little insulation, drafty windows, poor heating…and you are on a budget…where do you begin?

This was the question posed by reader Christian Rodriguez at Green Building Advisor, and here is their answer:

Christian Rodriguez has taken an important first step in improving the energy efficiency and comfort of his 1880s home by arranging for an energy audit. With the results in hand, his first step was to air-seal the attic and add 20 inches of cellulose insulation. This made quite a difference both in comfort and heating bills.

Now comes a difficult decision: what to do next?

The audit has identified four additional things Rodriguez could do to further improve the energy efficiency and comfort of his old home:

  • insulate the walls of the house with dense-packed cellulose
  • insulate the crawl space with closed-cell spray polyurethane foam
  • replace four drafty windows that are original to the house
  • install a high-efficiency air-source heat pump

Green Building advisor notes: “Unfortunately, there is only enough [money in the] budget for one of the four options (all estimates within $200-$300 of each other).

The experts all agree – the best thing to do next is improve the building envelope before spending any money on upgrades to the mechanical systems. Read their detailed suggestions here: An Energy Upgrade On a Budget.

If you’re ready to start looking into energy upgrades for your home, call us at 376-3500 to schedule a $25 Home Snapshot Assessment.

Learn More