The cheapest form of energy is the one you don’t produce
The electricity you use comes from a variety of sources including coal, natural gas, wind and water. All of these generation sources have advantages and disadvantages.
Coal is lower-cost, and the U.S. has an abundance of it. But coal has emissions issues. Gas burns cleaner but is more expensive than coal. Wind and water are clean. But they also are not as dependable as other sources.
What’s needed is a source of power that is reliable, clean and inexpensive. Fortunately, such a source exists. It’s called “negawatts,” a term coined by Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute. In Lovins’ words, “There’s no cheaper or cleaner power than the power you don’t produce.”
In a nutshell, negawatts is electricity that was never needed. It’s a concept electric co-ops have pushed for years — only they called it “energy efficiency.”
In March, cooperatives served by Associated Electric took part in the launch of a new program that will take energy efficiency to a much higher level. Associated’s “Take Control & Save” program is designed to slow growth on the electric cooperative system while helping members cut rising costs for electricity.
“This is a cost-effective resource for us,” says Jim Jura, Associated manager. “The way we are growing, we have to do one of two things. We have to buy generation to meet the demand. Or we have to invest in measures to reduce that demand.”
The program roll-out was timely in the wake of a decision by the Associated Board of Directors to postpone indefinitely plans for a new coal-fired power plant. Instead, the Springfield-based generation cooperative will invest in a number of initiatives, including new gas generation and the state’s only utility-scale wind farms.
The energy-efficiency program follows a year of study that showed Associated can save 1.9 million megawatt-hours over six years. These negawatts aren’t free. Associated will invest $31.1 million to realize these savings.
But that’s a small cost compared to the expense of building new generation. And it’s expected to have huge savings for the end users.
“The goal of this program is to save money not only at the generator but also at the meter for the members,” says Keith Hartner, special assistant to the CEO at Associated. “So we save this energy at a cost of 1.3 cents per kilowatt-hour, and that’s energy we don’t have to produce from a gas generator at 6 to 10 cents per kilowatt-hour. That’s a good deal, I think.”
In 2007, Associated conducted two studies to determine whether the program made sense. The first study looked at the age and efficiency of member’s appliances.
The second study was an economic evaluation of potential savings. This study showed five areas that would “generate” the most savings:
• Energy-efficient lighting
• Water heater efficiency
• Heating and cooling efficiency
• Energy Star appliances
Based on the fact that most electric cooperatives already have energy-efficiency programs in place, Associated designed a cafeteria plan for its member systems.
Co-ops can pick and choose the best approach for members. Some will add their own money to the dollars Associated is providing, offering powerful incentives to help members save.
|Three Rivers Electric Cooperative’s Vicki Lange uses an infrared camera to check exterior walls for air infiltration during an energy audit at a member’s home. Energy audits are just one way electric cooperatives are helping members save energy. By cutting back on the amount of electricity used across the state, the need for more power plants can be reduced.
Energy audits will be an important aspect of the program. These home inspections will show members areas where they can save money. Simple steps to save energy might include wrapping the first 10 feet of hot water pipe from the water heater, caulking around leaky windows and replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents (CFLs).
Associated plans to give away a minimum of 285,000 CFL bulbs.
Rebates — which will vary by cooperative — will reduce the cost and hasten the payback for members wanting to replace inefficient appliances with the new energy-saving ones that carry the Energy Star seal. Other rebates will lower the cost of replacing inefficient heating and cooling systems with ground-source or air-source heat pumps.
More money will be available to help electric co-ops put on energy-efficiency seminars to educate members. Some systems might opt to sponsor the popular Doug Rye radio program. Rye, known as the “King of Talk and Caulk,” is an energy-efficiency expert who has identified many ways consumers can save energy.
Several pilot projects will help find new ways to save. One of these will look at double-wide mobile homes.
“Double-wide mobile homes are the biggest energy users on the system, averaging 17,000 kilowatt-hours per year,” Hartner says. “The average on the system is a little over 14,000. The national average is a little over 12,000. So you can see there is a disparity between the national average and our top users.”
Associated hopes to take a sample of double-wide homes from around the state, conduct an energy audit and fix anything that is wasting energy. Data from these pilot projects will influence the future direction of the program.
Similar pilot projects will look at savings for commercial and industrial users. The study showed potential savings for these loads through more efficient motors and lighting.
Details of the program will be left to local cooperatives to work out. And it will take time for the various aspects of the program to begin. So watch the local pages of Rural Missouri for more information and be sure to attend your co-op’s annual meeting.
This program truly is a way members can take control of their electric bill. Associated’s “Take Control & Save” program will build upon the work of local electric cooperatives that have long been leaders in energy efficiency.