Energy efficiency saves all of us money

It may not be as sexy as solar panels, but efficiency has a direct impact on your pocketbook and on our state’s energy future


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While we have had our fair share of energy news in recent years -- from Northern Pass to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and from the increase in competitive suppliers of electricity to the decrease in natural gas prices -- these conversations have missed out on the important role energy efficiency plays in saving money and meeting our energy needs. 

Efficiency has a direct impact on your pocketbook and on our state’s energy future. Some say that energy efficiency is just not as sexy as solar panels, but investment in efficiency can save far more money, more quickly, than fancy new technologies. And even though many efficiency programs pay back quickly enough to warrant doing them without any financial incentives, New Hampshire citizens can participate in a wealth of programs that will help get the job done for even less.

In a little-heralded report issued last fall, ISO New England, our regional grid operator, reported that energy-efficiency efforts in New Hampshire and Vermont have avoided costly upgrades to our transmission system to the tune of $260 million. That is just the tip of the iceberg. It does not include the tens of millions of dollars saved by New Hampshire residences and businesses as a result of reduced energy bills.  It also does not count the jobs created for energy-efficiency professionals in the state, or the dollars kept in New Hampshire rather than being sent out-of-state to pay for fossil fuel resources. 

In February, the Public Utilities Commission approved energy-efficiency programs proposed by New Hampshire electric and natural gas utilities that are designed to encourage energy-efficiency investment in New Hampshire’s buildings.

These programs, referred to as the “CORE Programs” are funded by charges paid by New Hampshire ratepayers based on their electricity and natural gas consumption, as well as Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative proceeds and funds from the ISO-NE Forward Capacity Market, which permits utilities to receive regional payments as a result of energy-efficiency investments.

In 2011 alone, the CORE Programs saved New Hampshire residents and businesses more than $1.2 million (not including all RGGI-related savings), and savings are repeated year after year for as long as efficient equipment and processes remain in place.

The electric and gas utilities offer programs for residential, commercial and industrial (including municipalities) and low-income customers. These programs provide rebates for energy-efficient technologies depending on the needs of the residence or business.

Energy audits and other technical assessments are also available at a reduced cost. An audit permits you to determine what investments will bring the best bang for your buck. The CORE Programs also have incentives for new equipment and buildings -- they are not limited to updating old building stock.

The whole house

One major change this year is that all of the electric utilities are offering residential customers the Home Performance with Energy Star (HPwES) Program. This groundbreaking program permits qualifying households to obtain a reduced-cost home energy audit and then get a rebate for half the installed cost of the most cost-effective energy-efficiency improvements -- whether the measures save electricity, gas, propane, oil, wood or other fuels.

While two utilities (Public Service of New Hampshire and Unitil Energy Systems) have operated the fuel-neutral program as a pilot in the past, every utility is now offering the program to nearly all New Hampshire households. 

In approving the program, the PUC recognized that residential energy efficiency is most effective when it focuses on the whole house.  Targeting refrigerators, lighting, and, in some cases, water heating in isolation is not as effective as including weatherization measures, such as air sealing and insulation.

The HPwES process starts with a home energy audit, which will provide a set of recommendations for efficiency measures, as well as project cost and estimated energy and financial savings. If a homeowner decides to go forward with the recommended measures, the rebate will cover up to 50 percent of the cost of a project, up to $4,000. For example, if the total project cost is $8,400, the homeowners only have to pay $4,400.  A typical project of this size will save the homeowners approximately $1,095 per year in avoided heat and electricity, and will pay for itself in 4.5 years. (For more information on HPwES and the other CORE Programs, you can call your utility, visit its website, or go to nhsaves.com.)

New Hampshire needs to keep talking about big-ticket energy issues.  Renewable energy investment, resolution of economic concerns regarding PSNH’s generation facilities and the expansion of the competitive electricity market are issues central to our energy future. It may be true that caulking and insulation are not as sexy as renewable energy and competition issues, but if we really want to tackle our energy problems head-on, and save money in the process, investment in energy efficiency is a major part of the solution.

Rachel Aslin Goldwasser, an attorney with the Concord law firm of Orr & Reno and a member of its Energy Practice Group, can be reached at rgoldwasser@orr-reno.com.

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