Pilot project helps homeowers reduce use, bill for electricity

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WALLA WALLA — Does regular feedback about power usage help consumers conserve electricity?

A three-year Pacific Power pilot project now under way aims to answer that question.

The company has offered free personalized home energy reports to about 10 percent of the utility’s 135,000 customers in Washington since August 2012, according to company spokesman Tom Gauntt.

Research has shown the program is likely to yield savings for participants.

“For every dollar spent on the home energy reports, customers are able to save about $3 on their bills,” Gauntt said.

The length of the program allows customers to make short- and long-term fixes around the house and see results, he added.

The reports are delivered by mail as well as email, and the company has a website that offers participants a snapshot of their monthly energy usage in comparison to about 100 homes similar to their own within a few minutes walk.

A graphic on the site’s home page shows how much energy “efficient neighbors,” the customer and “all neighbors” fared during the month.

The site also offers energy-saving tips, such as hanging laundry to dry, turning off and unplugging appliances when not in use, cleaning refrigerator coils and ditching second fridges and similar measures.

The site allows customers to track how much power they use month by month, see how much their bill was likely affected by the weather or “other factors” — such as Christmas lights, for example — and set goals to try to cut consumption.

This kind of project is one of three categories of energy-saving programs researchers identified in a 2009 report, “Residential Energy Use Behavior Change Pilot.”

The authors, whose work was funded by the Minnesota Office of Energy Security, said other programs involved in-home devices with real-time feedback displays or dynamic pricing schemes that also involve infrastructure upgrades.

Pacific Power’s program is noninvasive in that sense, with no special hardware necessary for ratepayers who take part.

The Minnesota report authors highlighted the simpler system as cost effective, having a broad reach and resulting in an average savings of 2 percent for customers on the whole, with higher savings levels among targeted segments of the population.

Opower, the company Pacific Power has partnered with for the home energy reports, says its partnerships with utilities have saved two terawatt-hours of energy in the U.S. The company said that is the equivalent of taking a city of 500,000 off the power grid for a full year.

Opower’s president and founder, Alex Laskey, said the potential exists for even great savings.

“As we continue to add utility partners in the U.S. and internationally, there is a tremendous opportunity for Opower, and broader energy efficiency programs, to have a massive impact on energy consumption across the globe, and to save families significant amounts of money,” he said in a Thursday announcement of the two terawatt-hour milestone.

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