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Solving global warming means investing in energy efficiency & conservation

Energy Efficiency & Conservation

Residential and commercial buildings account for two-thirds of all electricity consumption in America.  As Montanans transition to green power, we must also learn how to use our prevailing energy more efficiently and sparingly.

Energy efficiency and conservation provide some of the fastest, cheapest solutions to America’s energy problems.  Energy conservation means cutting back on total energy use, while energy efficiency refers to using less energy to produce the same goods and services. 

Energy conservation and efficiency don’t have to come at a sacrifice.  In many ways, easy tasks like weatherizing your home can be beneficial for you and the environment.  Learn how these practices can help you reduce your demand on fossil fuels, practice thoughtful living, protect Montana’s landscapes, and lower your energy bill, all while maintaining a comfortable standard of living!


5 Simple Steps Toward Energy Savings*

1. Energy Audits and Your Energy Dollar

The road to home energy savings should begin with a professional energy audit.  Professional energy auditors determine where your home loses energy and how efficiently your heating and cooling systems operate.  They also come up with solutions to tackle your home’s least efficient areas.  Many Montana contractors perform professional energy audits, but online and do-it-yourself audits are also freely available.  Check out how the U.S. Department of Energy recommends performing a do-it-yourself energy audit.  SBS Solar also provides online energy audits for free and in fewer than five minutes!

2. Check Your Incentives

Because of state and federal incentives, energy conservation and efficiency strategies have never been more affordable or effective.  Did you know that Montanans could claim credit against their tax liability for up to 25% of the costs of investment for energy and conservation services through the Energy Conservation Installation Credit?  See the US Department of Energy for a comprehensive list of additional credits for renewables and efficiency measures. 

3. Weatherization

Weatherization is one of the best places for homeowners to focus their energy-saving efforts.  Easy weatherization projects produce rapid dividends at relatively little expense.  Simply plugging and sealing air leaks could save you 25 to 40 percent on your heating and cooling bills!  A good place to begin weatherization is with insulation.  Proper insulation better retains warm air during the winter and cool air during the summer.  Three key areas of your home should always have insulation:  the attic, the basement, and all exterior walls.  After insulation, you should consider targeting your windows next.  The Department of Energy estimates that window weatherization can yield savings of up to 25 percent of your energy bill!  See how Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) suggests maximizing energy returns by weatherizing your windows today. 

4. Tackle Small Projects First

Making a meaningful difference in your home's energy efficiency usually doesn’t involve as much time and energy as you may think.  For example, you've probably heard it before, but changing your lights to compact fluorescents (CFLs) is one of the simplest ways to conserve energy.  CFLs last up to 10 times longer than standard incandescents and use up to two-thirds less energy.  Another easy way to save is by practicing thermostat setback.  According to MDEQ, you could save up to one percent of your annual heating cost for each degree of setback left over a daily eight-hour period. 

Listed below are simple tips that are sure to generate immediate energy savings!  You can also check out Bonneville Power Administration’s website for more creative ideas.

  • Open the refrigerator door as little as possible
  • Use microwaves for most cooking, especially small meals
  • Cover pots and pans when cooking on the range top or oven
  • Wash only full loads in the dishwasher and washing machine
  • Wash clothing in cold water
  • Make sure all house doors shut tightly
  • Keep heating vents unobstructed
  • Remove excess lights
  • Paint and decorate in light colors
  • Use natural light whenever possible
  • Dust of dirty light bulbs
  • Turn off/eliminate unnecessary lighting
  • Turn off your water heater when on vacation
  • Insulate hot and cold water pipes
  • Caulk small cracks and gaps that leak air
  • Repair leaky faucets immediatelyEnergy Star

 

5. Know Your Appliances

Up to one quarter of the average home’s energy consumption is guzzled up by appliances.  When it comes time to buy new appliances, make environmentally informed choices by seeking out Energy Star products.  Products labeled with the Energy Star logo meet high efficiency standards established by the EPA and DOE.  In 2010, Americans saved nearly $18 billion on utility bills (and the greenhouse gas emission equivalent of 33 million cars) by using Energy Star products! 

Another easy way to reduce the impact of your appliances is to be aware of phantom loads.  Did you know that electrical appliances use energy even when they’re turned off?  Resolve this problem by putting all appliances with phantom loads on power strips.  That way, they can be completely turned off when not in use.

*Adapted from E.C. LaMeaux’s “5 Ways to Make Your Home More Energy Efficient” (c 2011).

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Energy efficiency is the fastest, cheapest component in the quest for clean energy.



Pat Judge of the Northwest Energy Coalition summed up energy efficiency very well in op-ed published in the Billings Gazette. You can also listen to a great Montana Public Radio commentary >>

Guest Opinion: Energy efficiency will pay off for Montana

By PATRICK JUDGE

As Montanans and all Americans struggle with the dual challenge of an economy and an environment deep in distress, they are looking for solutions that will improve the health of both.

They are also looking for ways to save money now. Fortunately, one opportunity fits the bill perfectly: energy efficiency.

Energy efficiency is an energy resource like any other, except cleaner, cheaper and faster to develop than the alternatives. It is also abundant and proven. Thanks to programs put in place over the past 30 years, efficiency now ranks as the region's third-largest energy resource. Incredibly, the Pacific Northwest saves over 32 million megawatt-hours of electricity (3,700 average megawatts) each year - more than twice the amount consumed in all of Montana. In financial terms, that translates to well over $1 billion that can be invested back into local businesses and households each year. And, according to recent studies, the region can add another 5,000 average megawatts of cost-effective efficiency by 2020.

Energy efficiency seems tailor-made as a tool for economic recovery. It yields lower and more stable energy bills for consumers. It offers a low risk, high return on investment. It creates local jobs in the energy services industry and frees up capital for other job creation. It lessens our dependence on foreign energy.

And it is one of the few solutions to the Keynesian "paradox of thrift" - the notion that what's good for our national economy (consumer spending) is often at odds with what's good for our household economy (saving). Investments in efficiency align these interests, producing benefits for both.

Simply put, energy efficiency means capturing energy currently going to waste and putting it to productive use. As with any investment, efficiency usually involves some up-front expenditure. But never before has there been so much assistance available for moving forward.

Montanans can claim a 25 percent state tax credit for qualifying conservation projects, up to a limit of $500 per year for individuals or $1,000 per couple. For tax years 2009 and 2010, they can also claim a 30 percent credit on their federal income taxes up to a limit of $1,500.

And Montanans have considerably more to gain from efficient technologies, practices and policies than most Americans. With a rugged climate and long travel distances, state residents spend a disproportionately high percentage of their budgets on energy. Efficiency provides a unique opportunity for the state to tap into literally millions of dollars worth of savings.

Two bills pending at the Montana Legislature would go a long way toward boosting Montana's success: House Bill 641 directs the state's three largest electric utilities and three largest gas utilities to capture the cost-effective efficiency on their systems. House Bill 646 focuses on improving the efficiency of Montana's K-12 schools. Lawmakers need to hear from their constituents that energy efficiency is a top priority, and that these bills ought to pass. A simple call (444-4800) can make a world of difference.

Patrick Judge of Helena advocates for the NW Energy Coalition, an alliance of more than 100 organizations and businesses committed to a clean, affordable energy future.

Copyright © The Billings Gazette, a division of Lee Enterprises.

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Energy Efficiency -- the low hanging fruit. Sightline Institute

Listen to a six-minute podcast in which Sightline's Cascadia Scorecard energy indicator reveals that our region is lagging most in the area of energy use. Sightline Research Director Clark Williams-Derry explains how tools we already have--like caulk guns, efficient cars, and high-efficiency furnaces--may be the technological "silver bullet" for reducing our energy consumption. Head to their website to download and listen >>

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A few ENERGY EFFICIENCY Websites and links

 

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Here's a resource we are happy to recommend. The homeowner's Handbook to Energy Homeowner's HandbookEfficiency: A Guide to Big and Small Improvements. Authors John Krigger and Chris Dorsi. A Saturn Resource management book. Learn about this great book HERE >>

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