Energy Savings Blog

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

Holiday Energy Saving Tips

Monday, November 24th, 2014

Energy Saving Tips for the HolidaysThe holidays bring friends and families together, which often finds us spending more time in the kitchen. If you’re like us, you’re interested in good tips on how to put together a cozy winter meal while keeping energy bills reasonable. Energy costs in the kitchen can total up to 15% of total home energy use, so it’s worth a bit of effort to learn how to be more efficient.

Here are some tips to help keep your energy costs down:

  • Keep the oven door closed. It’s tempting to open the door to check on the progress of a dish. But because the hot air that is contained in the oven is an important part of the appliance’s cooking process, frequent peeking is self-defeating. Every time the oven door is opened, the temperature inside is reduced by as much as 25 degrees, forcing the oven to work even harder (and use more energy) to get back to the proper cooking temperature, and increasing the cooking time. So try to use the oven window instead.
  • Clean your burners. If you’ve got an electric range, one great way to keep your stovetop cooking efficiently is to keep the reflectors under your burners grime-free. They can be a pain to clean, but regular maintenance can go a long way. You can also invest in some better reflectors that can decrease your stovetop cooking times, which will save you energy (and money!) over time.
  • Don’t neglect your crock-pot… or your microwave, toaster oven, or warming plate. Putting your small kitchen appliances to work instead of the oven or stovetop can mean significant energy savings. The average toaster oven can use up to half the energy of the average electric stove over the same cooking time.  And microwave ovens draw less than half the power of your regular oven, and they cook for a much shorter period of time
  • Make contact. We’ve all got one in our kitchen—those warped and rounded pans that wobble when you set them on the stovetop. If you have a gas range, you can cook with warped pans to your heart’s content; those of us with electric ranges aren’t so lucky. Electric stovetops can only transmit heat to pans they are in direct contact with; the less contact your pan has with the burner, the more energy the stovetop will have to expend to heat the pan (and its contents).
  • Cool it. Allow hot foods and liquids to cool before putting them in the refrigerator. Uncovered, hot food and liquids give off vapors that make the refrigerator work harder. Use a lid or plastic wrap to cover the food and place in the refrigerator after cooling.
  • Use your dishwasher. It saves energy and water. Only hand-wash things that aren’t dishwasher-safe, and wait until you’ve got a full load before starting the dishwasher. Be sure to stop the appliance before the heated dry cycle – just open the door and let your dishes air-dry.
  • Turn down the heat. Spending all day in the kitchen? If you’ve got the oven running and soup on the stove, you can probably turn the heat down a bit. The heat from your oven, not to mention dinner guests, should keep your home warmer than usual, and your furnace won’t have to work as hard.

One more tip… Be festive & frugal with your holiday lights. Did you know that those large, traditional colored bulbs you unpack year after year could be costing you a bundle? Consider buying new miniature lights or LED strings, which use 7 to 10 times less energy and last much longer than the larger bulbs.

To avoid accidentally leaving your lights on and running up your electric bill, think about using an automatic timer, both indoors and out. Timers remove the burden of turning the lights on and off…or forgetting to do it! Just make sure that the timer you use is rated to handle the total wattage of your lights.

Enjoy a safe, efficient and happy holiday!

Big Savings on Heat Pump Water Heaters

Friday, November 14th, 2014

Water heaters are one of the biggest sources of energy consumption, second only to energy used to heat your home or business.  Over the past few years, a new type of water heater, using Heat Pump technology, cuts water heating energy use by about 60% compared to standard electric storage water heaters.

If you’re thinking about replacing your water heater, or want to reduce your energy usage, now’s the time to consider a heat pump water heater.  Now through December 3rd, 2014, you can save a total of $700 on the price of a new GE GeoSpring Hybrid Heat Pump water heater.  This includes a $400 instant rebate at the time of purchase and a $300 rebate from OPALCO after installation.

A conventional electric water heater costs about $440 a year to heat water for a typical home.  It can cost even more, depending on the size of home and family and water use habits (baths versus showers, etc.).  In the same home, with a heat pump water heater,  it would only use $167 in electricity – a savings of $272 per year, or over $3,000 over the lifetime of a typical water heater. If your water heater uses propane, the savings should be even greater.

To find out if a heat pump water heater is right for you, click here for helpful tools and resources.  To learn more about the rebates, see information on the OPALCO rebate and the GE rebate, then check out the water heaters at Sears, Lowes, or any of these dealers.  Make your best deal, and once installed, fill out and submit the OPALCO rebate form to receive $300 cash back.

Check out the GeoSpring water heater website to learn more about how heat pump water heaters work, locate a dealer, and calculate savings.  Here’s a helpful video that explains how the GeoSpring water heater works.

What’s More Important, Air-Sealing or Insulation?

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

Infrared image showing heat leaking from a house

Infrared image showing heat leaking from a house

A recent analysis of San Juan County homes and businesses showed that most can substantially reduce their energy bills and wasted energy by improving their energy efficiency. Air sealing and insulation are two of the best ways to make your home or business more comfortable, durable, and energy efficient.

To our question – What’s more important, air sealing or insulation? ­– Green Building Advisor (GBA) senior editor Martin Holladay says the answer is clear, “Air sealing always comes first.”

Air Leaks Waste Energy and Rot Houses

GBA estimates a whopping one third of the energy you pay for probably leaks through holes in your house. Air leaks can also cause moisture and indoor air quality problems. Stopping unwanted airflow is an important job of a building enclosure. Air leaks through walls, roofs and floors can have the biggest effect on the durability of a house. Uncontrolled air flow through the shell not only carries moisture into framing cavities, causing mold and rot, it can account for a huge portion of a home’s energy use and cause indoor air quality problems as well.

Doug Poole

Doug Poole

Doug Poole of Sage Building on Lopez Island agrees. He explains, “Air enters and leaves the home through stack effect and wind pressure.  Stack effect turns your house into a chimney and is constantly drawing air from the low points of the home and sending it out through the high points. This is called infiltration and exfiltration.”

Poole lists the benefits of air sealing a home as:

  • Savings on energy costs
  • Improved comfort through reducing drafty areas of the home
  • Better indoor air quality by reducing the air entering the home through the crawlspace
  • Lower threat of mold growth in the attic
air sealing your home

How a leaky building wastes energy. (click to enlarge)

Plugging the Leak

As winter approaches we are more likely to notice our home’s air leaks or “drafts,” especially when the winter winds are raging. Often these drafts are around windows and doors and we think these leaks are our major source of wasted energy. Experts agree however, that in most homes, the most significant air leaks are hidden in the attic and basement. These are the leaks that significantly raise your energy bill and make your house uncomfortable. As Poole said, in cold weather, warm air rises in your house, just like it does in a chimney. This air, which you have paid to heat, is wasted as it rises up into the attic and sucks cold air in all around your home—around windows, doors, and through holes into the basement.

Hand in hand with air sealing comes proper ventilation.  Poole says, “This can be as simple as a bath fan on a timer, or as complicated as a Heat Recovery Ventilator for super tight or high performing homes.  The tightness of the home can be tested with a Blower Door and then the appropriate home ventilation system should be installed.

A popular Home Performance slogan is:  “Seal tight, ventilate right!”  Poole’s own well sealed home has a bath fan that is always on at a low speed so its constantly bringing in fresh air from outside and getting rid of stale, moisture-laden air.  Opening windows high and low in the house can work too, but that wastes a lot of energy and it puts Mother Nature in charge of how much fresh air we get.

Caulking and weather-stripping are two simple and effective air-sealing techniques that offer quick returns on investment, often one year or less. Caulk is generally used for cracks and openings between stationary house components such as around door and window frames, and weather-stripping is used to seal components that move, such as doors and operable windows.  For some good information and tips on how to air seal you home or business, see Energy Star’s excellent A Do-It-Yourself Guide To Sealing And Insulating With Energy Star.  It’s loaded with good how-to information and illustrations.

Pressurizing the House

Blower Door

Blower Door

Poole agrees that door seals can sometimes be a big air leak in a home, and that properly sealing dampers on dryer vents, bath fans and kitchen hoods is good to do as well. That said, Poole finds the biggest culprits tend to be in the dark places. As a Home Performance contractor, his focus is on the high and low leaks in the house.

Donning protective gear and heading into the crawlspace to seal gaps around pipes and wires, under tubs, duct penetrations, etc. will improve air quality, save energy and reduce drafts.”

The attic is a little more technical.  We typically use the Blower Door to pressurize the house and help us find the air leaks in an attic.  These include the plumbing and electrical penetrations, as well as interior wall tops and drop soffits.  If you have a vaulted ceiling with no attic access, then looking for dusty cobwebs in cracks around beam ends, at blocking, etc… can yield results.  Air sealing high in the home saves energy and takes the stress off roof venting, reducing concerns around creating mold conditions on the underside of the roof-deck.

To check the energy efficiency of your house, the Home Energy Snapshot Assessment from OPALCO is a great place to start.  At $25 it is an excellent value, and includes 2-3 hours of consultation with a Building Performance Institute (BPI) certified contractor (Doug Poole or David Meiland of Bailer Hill Construction on San Juan Island), free energy efficient light bulbs and low-flow shower heads. To learn more about the Home Energy Snapshot, energy saving, rebates, or to schedule an Energy Snapshot appointment check out the links below.

Learn More

 

Great Turnout at the San Juan Energy Fair!

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

The first Energy Fair hosted by Islands Energy and OPALCO was a great success!  Visitors at the May 17th event received free energy kits, attended conservation workshops, and engaged in lively conversations with a variety of contractors to learn more about solar panel installations, home energy upgrades, financing programs from Islanders Bank, and electric vehicles, to name a few.

OPALCO Energy Savings Specialist Elisa Howard and MORE Committee member Peter Risser welcome guests at the San Juan Energy Fair on May 17th.

Amy Saxe and Elisa Howard from the OPALCO Energy Savings team enjoyed the chance to chat with members one  on one about our efficiency rebates, home energy audits, local energy generation, and the benefits of LED bulbs.

Some in attendance also participated in solar home tours organized by the M.O.R.E. Committee (Member Owned Renewable Energy).  Kids made door draft stoppers and participated in an energy fact “treasure hunt” for a chance to win prizes.

If you missed this one, please join as at the upcoming fairs on Lopez Island (Saturday, May 31st) and Orcas Island (Saturday, June 7th) from 10am to 3pm.

Due to limited availability and anticipated demand, reservations for the Home Energy Conservation Workshop and the Solar Home Tours are recommended. To reserve a spot, please call the Conservation District at 360-378-6621 or email energy@sjislandscd.org to pre-register.