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Posts Tagged ‘energy efficiency’

New Year’s Resolution – Cut your Fossil Fuel Use

Wednesday, January 6th, 2016

As we ring in the new year, we can celebrate some good news for homeowners looking to cut their fossil fuel use in 2016. At its final session in December, the U.S. Congress passed an extension for many of the most popular tax incentives for wind and solar. This provides a healthy boost to the development of new renewable power sources and will speed up replacement of fossil fuel and nuclear electricity generation with cleaner sources.

The economic advantages of extending the wind and solar tax credits go beyond price. A recent article in Bloomberg New Energy Finance states, “This is exactly the sort of bridge the industry needed. The costs of installing wind and solar power have dropped precipitously—by more than 90 percent since the original tax credits took effect—but in most places coal and natural gas are still cheaper than unsubsidized renewables. By the time the new tax credit expires, solar and wind will be the cheapest forms of new electricity in many states across the U.S.”

What does this mean for the average Vermont homeowner? It’s wonderful news because in 2016, many Vermont homeowners will qualify for credits and rebates for:

  • Making home energy improvements such as new windows, adding insulation, envelope and duct sealing.
  • Installing efficient air conditioners and heat pumps.
  • Purchasing gas or oil furnaces and furnace fans; and gas, oil, or electric heat pump water heaters.
  • Purchasing hybrid gasoline-electric, diesel, battery-electric, alternative fuel, and fuel cell vehicles.
  • Installing qualified solar water heating and photovoltaic systems, small wind and geothermal heat pump systems.
  • Installing qualifying fuel cells and microturbines, although these systems are not widely available for homes.

Many of these incentives are available for new construction as well. So if you are building a new home in 2016 be sure to talk to your builder about getting your house Energy Star® rated.

There’s no doubt that with so many different programs, credits and rebates, the average Vermont homeowner may be confused about where to begin. Start by checking these on-line resources:

For low-income Vermonters there are additional options for low-cost loans and subsidies for home energy improvements. Check the LIHEAP Clearinghouse website for more information.

Don’t forget about low-cost loans for efficiency upgrades that are widely available for all homeowners in Vermont through the Heat Saver Loan program. Also, VSECU offers a number of energy-related loans.  In many cases, the cost for your loan payment is more than covered through immediate savings on heating fuel and electricity costs.

Our core mission at the Energy Co-op is to provide our members with information, incentives and services that help to reduce their fossil fuel use. That’s why we’ve established our business model as a one-stop shop for home energy efficiency. Our service and installation teams are all NORA certified and because we are a non-profit Co-op, you can rest assured that the price you pay for service and upgrades will be fair and competitive. We’ll help you navigate through the maze of options for rebates and incentives and prioritize improvements that will offer the best return on your investment.

Why not contact us today?  We’ll be happy to help you make a New Year’s resolution that will improve the safety and efficiency of your home, keep more money in your wallet and help save the planet at the same time.

How to be a Climate Change Hero

Monday, December 21st, 2015

The Paris Climate Action agreement signed last week has given new hope to those of us who are concerned about climate change and want world  leaders to join together to find ways to help. At home, President Obama has announced that by 2025 he wants the United States to reduce its total carbon footprint by up to 28% of 2005 levels.

While we applaud the global agreement and think that government goals and promises are a good start, we know that change must also take place from the bottom up, starting in our own homes and backyards.  These changes give new meaning to the old adage, “Think global, act local.”

Most experts in climate change science agree that increasing efficiency is the low-hanging fruit for reducing our carbon emissions.  In fact, many sources including the Natural Resources Defense Council, continue to put efficiency at the top of the list for consideration by both individuals and businesses.

Energy Efficiency 101

Being energy efficient doesn’t mean going without a comfortable and well-lit home or making painful sacrifices. Many energy efficiency measures are low cost and easy to implement. With the many attractive financing options now available, some upgrades can even save you money from day one. Consider these five options:

  1. Upgrade your home energy systems.  Consider a new energy-efficient furnace, cold-climate heat pump, or roof top solar panels.
  2. Weatherproof your home. Install storm windows and close curtains at night to reduce heat loss and energy use. Upgrade insulation in walls, basements and attics to save up to 30% of your energy bill. Not sure where to start? Get an energy audit to provide guidance and to set priorities.
  3. Install low-flow showerheads and wash your clothes in cold or warm water.
  4. Change your lights. Replace regular light bulbs with compact fluorescent or LED light bulbs to eliminate 150 pounds or more of CO2 per year for each bulb you replace.
  5. Plant trees and shrubs. Trees absorb CO2 and give off oxygen. One tree will absorb over a ton of carbon dioxide during its lifetime.

What About Conservation?

If you aren’t willing or able to spend money on efficiency improvements, consider conservation. Often confused with efficiency, energy conservation involves behavior changes that don’t cost anything extra but can have a big impact on your home energy use.

  1. Drive less. You save one pound of carbon dioxide for each mile of driving you eliminate.
  2. Stop idling. Turn off your engine when you are picking up your children at school or waiting in a drive-through line.
  3. Cut hot water use. Turn your hot water heater thermostat down to 120 degrees. Run your dishwasher and washing machine with full loads only.
  4. Adjust your thermostat. Moving your thermostat down just two degrees in winter and up two degrees in summer could eliminate about 2,000 pounds of CO2 a year for an average household.
  5. Turn off “ghost “power. Plug televisions, computers and other appliances into a surge protector and switch off the surge protector after you turn off the appliances – or use an advance power strip.
  6. Recycle and reuse. Recycle your old newspapers and magazines, cardboard, glass, metal, and recyclable plastic containers. Find creative ways to reuse items instead of discarding them.
  7. Be green in your yard. Composting your food and yard waste reduces the amount of garbage that you send to landfills and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
  8. Shop smart. Buy products with less packaging and reusable or recyclable packaging in the first place.

Calculate your household’s carbon footprint

Before you upgrade or conserve, you can check the EPA’s Household Carbon Footprint Calculator to estimate household greenhouse gas emissions arising from your home energy use, transportation and waste disposal. This tool helps you understand where your emissions come from and identify ways to reduce them. It can also give you a way to measure your progress.

Spread the word

Don’t be afraid to tell family and friends that energy efficiency is good for their homes and good for the environment. The small steps each of us take today to lower greenhouse gas emissions and reduce air pollution will add up to a livable planet for our children and grandchildren.

Don’t Let Low Fuel Prices Fool You

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

If you’re the type of person who just went out and purchased a large SUV because gas prices are flirting with $2.00 a gallon, don’t read this. On the other hand, if you see low energy prices as an interesting opportunity, read on.

Everyone who drives a car or heats their home with oil, propane or kerosene is aware that prices have dropped dramatically since last year. There are many factors effecting current low oil prices. These include sustained high output from OPEC nations, the ability of American frackers to cut costs and maintain output, and lower demand from China. Like all complex international issues involving markets and energy, it’s anyone’s guess as to when prices will rise again – or whether they have further to fall.

The Vermont Fuel Dealers Association has published these numbers for average Vermont fuel prices as of the end of August, 2015 compared with those of a year ago:

Type of Fuel

Aug 2015

Aug 2014

Change

No. 2 Fuel Oil

$2.45

$3.59

-31.92%

Kerosene

$3.01

$4.10

-26.64%

Propane

$2.30

$2.81

-18.15%

Reg. Unleaded Gasoline

$2.64

$3.66

-27.88%

Diesel

$2.96

$4.01

-26.33%

As an energy efficiency advocate and heating fuel supplier, the question on my mind is, “Will lower home heating costs discourage homeowners from investing in energy saving improvements for their homes?” After all, we’ve all got plenty of things to spend our money on!

We suggest that it makes the most sense to take the money you’re saving on your energy bills and invest it in ways that make those savings permanent. If you do so, you’ll be protected from future price spikes, cut your carbon emissions and make your home more comfortable as well.

A good place to start is with an energy audit from the Co-op. For only $100, we complete a thorough assessment of your home’s energy use, insulation levels, heating system and appliances and provide a written report with our recommendations for saving money and cutting your fossil fuel use.

Fossil fuels are not the only energy source that costs less these days. There’s more good news for homeowners interested in powering their homes with renewable energy. According to a 2014 report published by the International Renewable Energy Agency, electricity from biomass, hydro, geothermal and onshore wind are all competitive with or cheaper than electricity from coal, oil and gas-fired power stations, even without financial support, and despite falling oil prices. Solar is leading the cost decline, with module costs falling 75 per cent since the end of 2009 and the cost of electricity from utility-scale solar falling 50 per cent since 2010.

The bad news is that this also means many current state and federal subsidies and rebates may be phased out, discontinued or not renewed when they expire. The 30% federal tax credit for solar expires at the end of 2016, for example.

The Energy Co-op’s always urges homeowners to start with an energy audit. After that, our approach is three pronged:

  • First, and most important, we make sure that the home is safe and healthy, free from mold, risk of carbon monoxide leaks and things like asbestos and vermiculite. According to the Center for Disease Control, more than 400 people in the U.S. die every year from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. The National Fire Protection Agency reports that in 2011, faulty heating equipment was implicated in an estimated 53,600 reported U.S. home structure fires.
  • Second, we focus on energy and money saving improvements like stopping drafts and adding insulation.
  • Third, we look into alternatives or replacements for old, wasteful boilers and furnaces.

Our main point is, don’t go the SUV route and rush to purchase a gas-hogging vehicle while gas prices are low, only to regret your decision when prices go up. Instead, take advantage of low energy prices to create a safer and more energy-secure home.

We believe that there has never been a better time to invest in efficiency improvements. Right here in Vermont rebates and incentives are still available – and we’re told that winter – and home heating bills – are on the way!

 

Energy Audits: What you don’t know can cost you money

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

Home energy audits can save you moneyPromoting energy efficiency may seem counter-intuitive for a home heating fuel dealer. After all, the more energy efficient our customers’ homes are, the less fuel we sell.

But the Energy Co-op of Vermont is a bit different. Our mission is to help our members save money on heating and cooling their homes while reducing their dependence on fossil fuels.  We encourage our members to begin this process with a home energy audit. Since we began offering energy audits two years ago, more than 35% of those who completed an audit have made at least one of the improvements that were recommended in the Co-op’s audit report.

What’s an energy audit?

An energy audit is a thorough evaluation of your home’s energy use performed by a qualified contractor. If your home’s heating system is more than 15 years old, the audit should also include a heating system inspection and evaluation. A complete energy audit also addresses related problems such as mold, dampness, drafts, ice dams and indoor air quality. The audit results in a list of recommended improvements. Typical recommendations include sealing air leaks, adding insulation and improving ventilation.

How do I choose an energy auditor? 

A good place to start is the Building Performance Institute website. This resource can help you find companies and individuals in your area that have been trained, tested and certified to BPI’s standards. These standards include using the “house-as-a-system” approach to improve the performance of existing homes – an approach proven to reduce home owner’s energy bills by 20 percent or more. Working with a certified energy auditor also provides the assurance that the improvements you decide on will result in real energy savings, be code compliant and installed safely.

Efficiency Vermont’s web site includes a searchable, state-wide list of certified, home performance contractors and energy auditors. The Energy Co-op of Vermont is on the list.

How do I pay for the improvements?

Many energy efficiency improvements are inexpensive and relatively easy to install. For more costly projects, there are a variety of options for financing and rebates. For major improvements like home heating system replacements, check with your local lender or credit union for home equity loans or special energy efficiency financing.

Two great energy improvement financing options in Vermont are the Heat Savers Loan Programs from  VSECU and Opportunities Credit Union.

Efficiency Vermont offers up to $2,100 in incentives per household to help Vermonters pay for energy efficiency home improvements completed by a certified Home Performance contractor.

What’s my payback?

It is easy to calculate the short-term savings from most improvements by measuring your reduction in heating fuel usage year to year. Many projects pay for themselves quickly, while major improvements can demonstrate a reasonable payback over a longer period time.

But the real rewards come in less tangible ways like a more comfortable and secure home and the benefit to the environment of burning less fossil fuel. What starts with an energy audit can result in cleaner air for the planet and more money in your pocket.

 

Why should home heating fuel dealers help homeowners use less fuel?

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

As homeowners embrace energy efficiency and reduce their dependence on fossil fuels for heating their homes, heating fuel dealers have an opportunity to move to a new, more profitable business model . This new model is designed to  offset lower heating fuel revenues by offering new efficiency services and products.

According to statistics compiled by the Thermal Efficiency Task Force , heating oil usage in the average Vermont home has declined from a high of 1,400 gallons per year in 1973 to a low of 764 gallons per year in 2011.  We see a similar trend with Energy Co-op members. After allowing for changes in winter weather, our members and customers have cut their oil use by an average 23% over the past 13 years.  Good for the planet, not necessarily good for business.

What are the key steps that fuel dealers must take to capture the opportunity within this shrinking market? The new model builds on the trust that fuel dealers have established by providing their customers with reliable fuel deliveries and 24/7 service for their heating equipment. This gives fuel dealers a competitive advantage for offering new services, provided some key strategies are in place:

Partnerships are key

The Vermont Public Service Department has supported the creation of the Efficiency Excellence Network (EEN) which encourages strategic partnerships between members of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association, Efficiency Vermont, and Home Performance Contractors. The Efficiency Excellence Network is designed to encourage fuel dealers and home performance contractors to work together to promote energy efficient equipment, energy audits and home energy upgrades.

As a founding member of EEN, the Energy Co-op now partners with several home performance contractors to make efficiency improvements in members’ homes.

To promote these partnerships, the Vermont Public Service Department worked with CEDF (Clean Energy Development Fund) and VLITE (Vermont Low Income Trust for Electricity) to create the Heat Savers program to provide funds to support up to $7 million in low-interest financing of clean energy measures. The Heat savers program is available only to EEN members working with Opportunities Credit Union and VSECU to offer attractive loans to their customers.

Opportunities and challenges for the new fuel dealer business model. 

Changing consumer behavior is never an easy task. Neither is it easy to change the way fuel dealers do business. But both are critically important to grow the home performance and energy efficiency sectors of the Vermont economy and cut our carbon emissions.

Fuel dealers must find innovative ways to expand their offerings in a wider competitive environment that includes electricians and HVAC contractors.

According to the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association, only 28 of the 47 home heating fuel dealers within a 50 mile radius of Burlington offer heating system service and installation. This is clearly points to the opportunity for expansion.

Roadmap to new business model

We are fortunate that Vermont’s policies and programs provide support to utilities and fuel dealers that want to innovate. To capture new business opportunities fuel dealers should:

  • Create or build service departments that serve as a resource (consultant/coach) for questions about heating system efficiency. Be sure that the people staffing this department are not just reacting to problems, but are also recommending pro-active solutions.
  • Use National Oil Heat Research Association (NORA) certification to support service technician training and build consumer confidence.
  • Create working partnerships to finance and install energy efficiency improvements. For example, the Energy Co-op of Vermont has completed 40 energy audits since the spring, resulting in home energy upgrades for 17 customers. It’s a modest but important beginning.
  • Offer high-value incremental services such as heat pump installations, BioHeat deliveries, pellet heating equipment, solar hot water heaters, and other clean technologies.
  • Provide easy-to-access information (across multiple communication channels) for turn-key financing options, rebates and incentives.

The Energy Co-op of Vermont has embraced many aspects of this new business model since its founding in 2001, combining our role as a fuel supplier with a sustained campaign to educate our members and build their understanding of the value of all kinds of energy efficiency services. We realize that the ability to offer effective, comprehensive solutions will depend on maintaining strong partnerships, providing great service and continuing to earn the trust and confidence of our members.

 

Creative Financing for Home Energy Efficiency – Save Now, Buy Later

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

“What is my pay-back?” is the question homeowners often ask when they are considering an investment in home energy improvements.  In the renewable energy community, we like to think that the real pay-back comes in the form of saving fossil fuel and improving the planet.  However, we know that financial considerations are most often the driver for these important homeowner investments.

Green Mountain Power’s recent announcement of their On-Bill Energy Improvement Loan program is a real boost for homeowner s seeking to improve their home’s energy efficiency while keeping their monthly budget intact.  This program allows homeowners to keep their average monthly electric and heating fuel payments stable while adding value to their homes with solar, thermal and energy efficiency improvements.

Unlike leasing, GMP’s program allows homeowners to benefit from federal and state tax credits and rebates.  Over the long run, this reduces the pay- back time for these improvements and also allows homeowners to build equity in their home.

The PACE Program (Property Assessed Clean Energy) is another attractive financing program for Vermont homeowners.  PACE finances energy efficient home improvements and links the payments (through property tax assessments) to the property rather than the homeowner.  This way, financing can be transferred to a new homeowner whether or not the assessment has been paid off.  This ensures that homeowners make an investment that will serve them in the short term and serve future residents of the home through lower energy bills and improved comfort.  PACE loans can also be paid off in full at any time.  Assessment payments for PACE financed improvements are repaid with low fixed payments for a period of up to 20 years.

Efficiency Vermont has more info and a list of towns in Vermont that are eligible for PACE financing.  Towns that adopt PACE financing options benefit from the improvement of the overall energy efficiency for the town’s housing stock while promoting local job growth in the energy efficiency sector.

Of course, traditional home equity loans are also a great resource for financing energy efficiency.  Many homeowners do the math on projected monthly energy savings vs. their monthly loan payments for the equity line and find themselves with positive cash flow right from the start.  Home equity loans have other advantages:  homeowners can include a variety of improvements that might not be approved by other energy-related programs, such as major appliance upgrades, window replacement and landscape improvements.  VSECU has an attractive range of home energy loan products .

No matter which way you slice it, lowering your heating fuel and/or electricity usage brings benefits to your home’s value, your bottom line and most importantly, the planet.  At the Energy Co-op of Vermont , we have a variety of programs and services that can help jump start your path towards an energy efficient home.  Call us today at (802) 860-4090 or send an email to info@ecvt.net.

Mobile Home Efficiency

Monday, May 19th, 2014

Mobile homes here in Vermont offer many opportunities for energy savings. There are 22,000 mobile homes in 244 parks scattered across the state. They make up more than 7% of our housing stock. Nearly 75% of Vermont’s mobiles are more than 40 years old. With few new mobile homes being built, many owners are busy looking to retrofit and improve their older homes, and to make them more energy efficient.

Improving mobile home efficiency starts with a few easy upgrades:

1) Furnace tune-up: Making sure heating systems are working as efficiently as possible keeps heating bills down. Furnaces should be serviced by professional technicians once a year.

2) Fixing Drafts: Sealing cracks around doors, windows and other spots doesn’t cost much and can cut energy use by 10% or more.

3) Insulation: Blowing insulation into the belly of a mobile home can help keep winter’s cold air from creeping in through the floors. If there is space between the roof and the interior, insulation can also be blown in to help reduce heat loss through the roof.

4) Storm Windows: Interior storm windows help reduce heat loss during Vermont’s coldest months.

5) Energy efficiency:  When installed correctly, modern light bulbs and power strips help homeowners save on electric bills each month. Every penny counts and money not used on utilities can be spent elsewhere.

With financial support from Efficiency Vermont, the Energy Co-op is working to help mobile home owners save energy and money. Our goal is to work with mobile home owners to make simple improvements and to identify opportunities for future energy upgrades. If you are a mobile home owner here’s what the Energy Co-op provides:

  • energy-saving light bulbs, aerators and shower heads
  • an advanced power strip
  • pipe wrap insulation
  • information on energy saving opportunities
  • a walk-through assessment of your home to look for more ways for you to save energy and lower your kerosene bills.

All of this, plus a tune-up for only $49. Call the Co-op before May 31, 2014, if you’re interested: (802) 860-4090.

For more simple tips to help Vermont’s mobile home residents save money, save energy and live more comfortably, check out “Do-it-Yourself Mobile Home Energy Efficiency” (PDF) from the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity.

Member: Vermont Fuel Dealers Association, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, Renewable Energy Vermont, Local First Vermont

© 2008–2017 Energy Co-op of Vermont, P.O. Box 111, Colchester VT 05446 | Tel: (802) 860-4090 - Toll Free: (866) 626-4328 - Fax: (802) 951-9157