Beating a rate hike

By on September 6, 2010

Willo Kelly is the director and founder of BlueGreen Outer Banks, an effort to promote a healthy environment while maintaining a healthy economy.
www.bluegreenouterbanks.com »

The North Carolina Utilities Commission held a public hearing in Dare County last week to hear comments on Dominion North Carolina Power’s proposed rate increase. If the commission approves the request, the average residential customer’s bill would increase by about 9 percent.

Dominion has not raised base rates since 1993 and agreed in 2005 to cut base rates by 6 percent through April 2010. Dominion says the increase is necessary to cover the cost for power plants, the transmission and distribution power delivery network and customer service.

Those who spoke at the public hearing said the rate increase couldn’t come at a worse time. No one ever wants to pay more, but in these tough economic times, especially with rising unemployment, families who are just holding on will be hit the hardest.

So what can we do to find some relief from inevitable rising energy costs?

The answer: Weatherization. Yes, adjusting your thermostat helps, but if you’ve got air leaks and faulty duct work you are still throwing good money after bad.

Weatherization is defined as the practice of protecting a building and its interior from the elements, particularly from sunlight, precipitation and wind, and of modifying a building to reduce energy consumption and optimize energy efficiency.

A little time and money spent now pays off big in the long-run. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that weatherization efforts bring a return of $1.83 in direct energy savings to homeowners for every $1 spent on weatherization. Combining both energy-related savings and non-energy-related benefit, the combined return per dollar spent is $2.69. It is the single most cost-effective thing you can do to improve your home’s energy efficiency.

Weatherization can be accomplished through a do-it-yourself energy audit, and there are several online resources available that offer helpful tips. Check out the N.C. State Energy Office and U.S. Department of Energy sites for more information.

A professional blower door test is the best option, but it can be costly. Infrared imaging is another great option. Infrared Inspections, a local Outer Banks company, charges about $250 for a full inspection.

Don’t take it for granted that just because you might live in a newer home that you don’t have energy efficiency issues. Wesley Carter, from Infrared Inspections, did a thermal scan of my 3 ½ year-old home and found several insulation and ductwork issues — costly problems that couldn’t be seen from a personal energy audit walk-through. If you would like to have an energy audit, contact the Outer Banks Home Builders Association at (252) 449-8232 for the names of reliable local companies that perform them.

There is also weatherization funding available for low-income families through the North Carolina Weatherization Assistance Program. The program is free to those who meet the income guidelines and is administered by the Economic Improvement Council, located in Edenton, for the counties of Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Dare, Gates, Hyde, Pasquotank and Perquimans.

North Carolina was allocated $131.9 million for weatherization assistance programs as part of the federal recovery act. The state has only spent $32 million thus far and has until March 2012 to use the money.

The weatherization assistance program treats the entire home to an energy-efficient makeover and may include: preventing drafts by sealing air leaks from doors and windows; insulating attics, walls, floors and pipes; sealing and insulating ducts; installing a smart thermostat; replacing existing lighting with energy efficient bulbs; replacing non-energy efficient refrigerators with energy efficient models; and an inspection and testing of heating/cooling systems for efficiency and safety purposes.  You do not need to own the home to qualify for the program. For more information, contact the EIC at (252) 482-4459.

On a side note, BlueGreen Outer Banks has been working with East Carolina University to develop a certification program for rental homes. A BlueGreen certified home will be required to have an energy audit and meet certain criteria to improve the home’s energy efficiency, water use, indoor air quality and other environmental impacts.

Once the program is finalized, BlueGreen hopes to expand the certification program to year-round residences and businesses.

On the cover: Home energy-saving tips (link here). (U.S. Department of Energy illustration)

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