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January 08, 2010

Environmental group mailing energy efficiency guide to area households

Reader comments (0) DailyProgress By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, January 8, 2010

In the coming days, residents in Charlottesville and Albemarle County will receive a how-to-guide that lists steps to increase the energy efficiency of their homes. The Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) will mail over 70,000 copies of its new “Energy Smart Solutions” booklet in the hopes of reducing the demand for energy.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download the audio of January 7, 2010 press conference that launched EnergySmartSolutions

(Left to right) Delegate David Toscano, Christopher Miller of the PEC, and Congressman Tom Perriello

“The cheapest energy is the energy you don’t have to buy in the first place because you don’t use it,” said Representative Tom Perriello (D-Ivy) at a press conference held Thursday to officially launch the guide.

Over the past five years, the PEC has been fighting proposals to build new high-voltage power transmission lines in West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia.  The new energy conservation program is one way the PEC hopes to reduce consumer demand for electricity and lessen the need for new power infrastructure, projects it says can damage the environment.

This guide recommends ten individual steps that each home and business owner can take to lower energy bills, ranging from installing compact fluorescent light bulbs to making sure attics are properly insulated.

Other steps include insulating hot water heaters, plugging electronics into power-strips and routinely changing air filters.

“The objective is to provide local residents with the full information they need all in one place to be able to help them save energy and save money on their energy bills,” said Scott Elliff. Elliff, a PEC board member, is a resident of Forest Lakes in Albemarle County who brought the idea for the booklet and instructional videos to the PEC last year. 

The result is a website with video instructions of how to perform each of the ten steps, featuring local builder Doug Lowe of Artisan Construction. Elliff said all of the recommended steps would cost under $500, but would save the average home $375 every year in lower energy costs.

Site visitors who fill out a survey are eligible to receive a 10% discount on supplies at participating home improvement stores. Congressman Perriello said he anticipates a boost in the local economy as homeowners head to hardware stores for supplies.

Christopher Miller, president of the PEC, said he recently switched to compact fluorescent bulbs and reduced his household electricity consumption by 40%.

“If 10% of the 70,000 people do it, it’s going to make a significant difference in the net energy use in the state of Virginia,” Miller said. The eventual goal is to deliver the guide to every household in Virginia.

The program is not the only local initiative designed to help homeowners make their structures more energy efficient. The city and county recently received a $500,000 grant from the Southeastern Energy Alliance to create the Local Energy Alliance Program (LEAP) to help homeowners finance major projects.

“We’re not trying to recreate what LEAP is doing, which is targeting people who need assistance to implement retrofits,” Miller said. 

Cynthia Adams, Charlottesville’s climate protection programs coordinator, is leading the LEAP program as it transitions from concept to reality. She said the two programs fit well together, but LEAP is designed for much more ambitious projects. 

“A person would go to LEAP if they had cold and drafty rooms,” Adams said. “Seventy to 80% of homes all have an issue with air sealing.”

LEAP will help homeowners pay for major retrofits through a combination of federal tax incentives and low-cost financing. Participants will also be connected with contractors who are certified to do the work.

For instance, if all of home’s air holes are sealed, caution must be taken to make sure dangerous gases such as carbon monoxide can be ventilated.

The program is currently working with several dozen homeowners on a test basis, but will officially launch later this year.

According to one local energy auditor, there is a place for both LEAP and the PEC’s Energy Smart Solutions guide.

“There are more draughts just coming through your walls, coming through electrical penetrations, and that’s something everyone can do with caulk and form,” said Andrew Grigsby of Culpeper-based Commonwealth Sustainability Works. He added that only one in 40 of the homes he audits has an adequate amount of insulation in the attic.

“It’s cheap, it’s easy and every house needs it,” Grigsby said. “Most people think their houses function normally, and they don’t. That’s what I see.”

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST: 

01:00 - Opening comments from Christopher Miller, President of the PEC
01:20 - Comments from Tony Vanderwarker, Chair of the PEC Board
02:45 - Comments from Scott Elliff
08:00 - Comments from Mayor Dave Norris
11:30 - Comments from Delegate David Toscano
14:30 - Comments from Representative Tom Perriello
19:00 - Brief clip from one of the videos

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