Community, Energy Efficiency and You

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Tompkins Weekly 10/22/2012

By Kevin Posman and Anne Rhoades

Like it or not, dear readers, autumn is upon us. Harvest festivals, brisk winds and colorful leaves.

With fall beginning and winter not long off, many Tompkins County residents are preparing for the cold months ahead. The warm summer may have blurred memories of high utility bills and cold floors, but the sharp morning air is bringing these memories back into focus. Since last winter, many residents have taken advantage of NYSERDA’s energy-efficiency programs and incentives in order to increase their comfort and reduce their energy usage.

If you have not looked into these incentives, you should. They are available for everyone: homeowners, renters, landlords and businesses. These incentives are paid for by you each month through the service- benefits charge on your utility bill. It’s in your interest to take advantage of these programs, and the Energy Corps at Cornell Cooperative Extension can help.

People who have used these programs and incentives are pleased. Cal Walker exclaimed, “Absolutely blew my mind,” in an interview about his home energy-efficiency upgrade. He commented about now setting his thermostat at 68°F and feeling warm, after winters of setting it upward of 74°F just to have the home comfortable.

“There were times I had to walk over and look at the thermostat just to see where [the temperature] was.” Walker’s experience is not uncommon, whether it is a room in a house, an apartment or home of our own, the desire for a safe and comfortable living environment is universal.

People who have completed the upgrades can look forward to a more comfortable winter. For those who have not, the window is closing to schedule an energy assessment and to complete energy-efficiency improvements in time for winter. Like any other home improvement project, energy upgrades can take time, but the results last. Energy benefits go beyond just you and this winter; this work is also about improving the community and the future.

Let’s set the stage for home energy usage. Taken as a whole, residential energy accounts for a significant portion of total energy consumption. In 2010, New York State’s residential sector accounted for almost 30 percent of the total energy used. Residential natural gas consumption was about 33 percent, the total used in the state. The average northeast household spends about $2,500 on energy, with half for electricity and the rest for natural gas, propane or heating oil. Given our extensive use of energy to power our homes, significant savings can be achieved if the proper actions are taken.

Often people feel that their individual actions are small, but together our activities have profound impacts. Issues like environmental quality and climate change seem large and overwhelming, but home energy efficiency is an area where individuals can have a direct influence.

Imagine the impact of even small amounts of reduction if all 40,000 households in Tompkins County participated. Beyond the county, the magnitude of this potential has been noticed on a global scale. The Intergovernmental Plan on Climate Change has projected that energy-efficiency measures on new and existing buildings could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent with net economic benefit by 2030. The plan suggests that efficient buildings will also improve indoor and outdoor air quality, social welfare and enhance energy security.

On the local level, while cost savings is a motivator for many people, whole home energy assessments can identify other problems relating to moisture and airflow. Managing moisture and airflow can improve the indoor air quality by reducing the presence of mold, carbon monoxide and radon. In terms of energy security, the less fuel you use, the less vulnerable you are to changes in demand and price volatility. This is true of the wider community as well.

Healthy economic development is key for creating a healthy, stable community. The combined savings on utility bills from reducing our energy usage represents money that individuals can direct back into the local county economy. Moreover, the energy-efficiency upgrade work needs to be done by local, certified professionals, which means green jobs and economic development, improving our social welfare.

The benefits are clear, but let’s return to a more immediate question: What good is a room that is too cold to be used during the winter months? Walker says, “I would encourage anybody who has a need to weatherize their homes to not delay. Don’t put it off, do it right away, because it has meant the world to use in terms of savings and comfort.”

To learn more, call the Energy Corps at Cornell Cooperative Extension, 272-2292, or go to upgradeupstate.org. For more information related to energy related steps you can take, visit Get Your GreenBack Tompkins at getyourgreenbacktompkins.org.

Kevin Posman is coordinator of the Energy Corps at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County, where Anne Rhoades is a community energy educator.

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