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The 3 percent solution for energy use

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When the Village’s electric power supplier looks into the future, its leaders assume that the village’s need for electricity will increase by about 1 percent each year. But with much of the supply currently coming from carbon–emitting coal plants, villagers and Village leaders have been looking for ways not to be such predictable power consumers.  

The Village Energy Task Force has stated its goal to help the village reduce its energy consumption by 3 percent per year. And both Village Manager Mark Cundiff and University of Dayton energy researcher Bob Brecha believe that the village as a whole can continue to reduce its energy usage at that rate for at least five years. Decreasing the village-wide energy consumption by 15 percent while at the same time seaching for more renewable energy sources is a conservative but realistic goal toward greening the village, Brecha said last week. The effort will benefit both residents and commercial businesses as well by saving them money in power costs, and likely more than they thought possible, Brecha said.

Current energy use profile

As a whole the village has seen a steady reduction in the amount of electric power used over the past decade. In 2001 the village logged over 40 million kilowatt/hours for the year. Five years later the year-end total was almost 34 million kwh, and last year the village was down to just over 29 million kwh. But instead of greater efficiency in the way that energy is used in the village, the drop in consumption reflects a steady decline in industrial and business activity in the village, according to ETF chairperson Jerry Papania.

On the residential side, per household energy consumption in the village has decreased slightly since 2003, but it remains almost 20 percent higher than the average household in the Midwest. According to an energy use analysis completed last year by Brecha and UD colleague Kevin Hallinan, the energy consumption per household in Yellow Springs is .45 kw per sq.ft. per month, versus the Midwest average of .37 kw per sq.ft per month. The local household energy consumption also balloons at about four times the “Energy Star” rate of the top 25 percent of energy efficient homes in the U.S., according to the report.

According to the report, the biggest reasons for the high level of residential energy use are the temperature at which residents set their air conditioners in the summer, poorly sealed houses and the low rate of attic, floor and wall insulation of the average home in the village. Just by raising the set point temperature from 60 degrees F to 72 degrees, for example, the average home could drop its cooling energy needs by about three-fourths. And just by increasing the attic insulation from an R (insulation) value of 25 to an R value of 51, a home would suddenly use half the cooling energy as before, according to the figures in the report.  

“It is clear that Yellow Springs is far away from where they desire to be as a community in terms of their collective energy use,” the authors of the energy analysis conclude.  

Residents in individual homes use more than half of the village’s total electric power. Last year residences used about 17 million kwh, while commercial businesses used almost 4 million kwh and industrial businesses used just over 8 million kwh, according to figures from Village Finance Director Sharon Potter.

The ultimate goal of the Energy Task Force is to decrease the overall energy consumption village-wide by encouraging and educating both residents and businesses about the importance of making the operation of their homes and business facilities more efficient. If residents and businesses can employ some of the ETF’s recommendations and create some independent solutions for greater efficiency, the village as a whole can reduce its consumption.

Papania said last week that a conservative goal of “3 percent is realistic to shoot for. That’s something I think could be attainable with some effort.”

Let the energy saving begin

The task force has two main goals, to help the Village reduce energy consumption and to educate the public about ways to increase efficiency in the home. Armed with $50,000 from the Village budget, the task force began this spring with a plan to switch the Village street lights from high-pressured sodium to induction lights, which act like fluorescents, Papania said. The task force can afford to replace about half the street lights, which will save the Village about $10,000 per year in energy costs. That means, he said, that the project will have paid for itself in about five years.   

The ETF also investigated and recommended that when the Village replaces the roof on the Bryan Center, the Village should add an extra one and a half inches of insulation to reduce the energy needed to heat and cool the building and also save on energy costs.

“In the meantime, our focus will be on conservation and pushing what we’ve been calling ‘negawatts,’” Papania said.

The task force aims to spread information about the 2 For 1 Energy audit and home retrofit business, of which Brecha is part owner, that a small investment can save villagers both energy and the costs associated with it. The group plans to include educational inserts in Village utility bills about the quick payback for switching to compact fluorescent lightbulbs, washing clothes with cold water and drying them on a line, statistics on energy efficient appliances and tax credits that can help villagers recoup their energy investments.

The task force also aims to help local businesses and industries save money by saving on energy costs. According to Papania, the Morgan Family Foundation funded a project of Community Solutions to help local companies such as YSI, Morris Bean and Friends Care Community improve the energy efficiency of their facilities. Task force member Reggie Stratton initiated a similar effort in 2007 at the Antioch Company and shared with other local companies solutions such as rainwater catchment, prairie grass growing and timed lighting and temperature settings to help businesses shave energy costs.

The seven-member task force includes Papania, vice-chair Stratton, Village Council representative Judith Hempfling, Pat Murphy, Brian Strawn, Larry Gerthoffer and Terry Graham. In working together, task force members have learned a lot themselves about energy leaks, for instance, and ways to test vampire loads that occur in most homes when appliances appear to be off and inactive and yet continue to draw power. According to Papania, a home energy meter that can be checked out from the local library showed him that his new compact stereo system pulls 20 watts even when it is off.

“It’s just a matter of people being aware and getting used to things and making intelligent decisions with what they replace appliances and things with,” Papania said.

Village’s power source profile

The Village currently uses a combination of renewable, non-polluting energy and fossil fuel, carbon emitting energy, much of which comes through contracts with the AMP cooperative. According to the Village’s power contract schedule, approximately 63 percent comes from coal plants, 28 percent from landfill gas, and about 9 percent from hydroelectric power on the Hudson River. When those contracts end in 2012 and 2013, the Village has scheduled to replace nearly all of its power sources with coal for about two years until its contracts with several new hydroelectric projects, Belleville and Meldahl/Greenup, begin to supply about 55 percent of the village’s total power needs.

The new hydro contracts are scheduled to begin in 2015. If by then, the village has been able to reduce its need by the goal of 15 percent, suddenly the hydro projects will be supplying almost 70 percent of the total electric power need. If the remaining 30 percent of demand can be filled with hydro or other renewable energy sources such as wind or solar, the village will be burning very clean. And according to Brecha, the hope at that point would be to reduce the natural gas consumption, which produces carbon emissions.

“Three percent for five years is not that difficult — I think we could probably do a lot more,” Brecha said. “There are a lot of places using less, such as California, which started years ago. They began by using the same as the others, and went to using half.”

California implemented its efficiency measures over a 30-year period, according to Brecha. And if they could do so beginning in the 1980s, surely the village can reduce its demand by 15 percent today, he said.  

“There’s no silver bullet, but there’s silver buckshot,” Papania said. “All the little things will add up to make it work.”

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