A Light That Saves

By Rodger Nichols

Cesar Garcia left, and Travis Hardy showed off the contents of Northern Wasco County PUD’s free energy kit.

Sometimes it’s the little things that mean a lot. And a lot of little things can add up to a huge thing.

LED lightbulbs are a great example. There are lots of advantages to this technology. They come to full brightness immediately with no warm-up delay. Frequent switching on and off does not reduce life expectancy, as with fluorescent lighting. Best of all, they use 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs.

These are all reasons why Northern Wasco County PUD started a project two-and-a-half years ago to encourage people in its service area to switch to LEDs.

It can seem counterintuitive that a supplier of any product would want consumers to use less of it. Obviously, the more you use, the more you pay and the more the supplier makes, right? Not in this case.

The PUD doesn’t exist to make a profit for stockholders—it is owned by the people it serves: every person, business, or industry getting power from the PUD. Its goal is to provide reliable service at a minimal cost.

EE kit`One of the largest costs in the PUD’s budget is electricity bought from the Bonneville Power Administration. If customers can get the same benefit of brightness using less electricity, the PUD can reduce the amount it has to buy, which helps keep rates low.

The PUD has a number of programs to help reduce demand—including credits for installing highly efficient heat pumps and double-pane windows, and having furnace vents inspected and sealed—but these measures involve contractors. When the pandemic hit, customers did not want contractors in their homes, and contractors were hesitant to visit homes.

This happened as Cesar Garcia was joining Travis Hardy in implementing the PUD’s Energy Efficiency Upgrade Program. With other in-home options temporarily off the table, they decided to expand a residential lighting upgrade program they had started in 2019 at Celilo Village, replacing the 100-watt incandescent bulbs that had been standard at the time of construction.

“They’re good quality, long-lasting bulbs,” Travis says. “But they’re also extremely expensive to run, especially when you have six-fixture chandeliers that were preinstalled in all those houses out there.”

Travis and Cesar shifted their focus to rural areas, mailing out free four-packs of LED bulbs to people in and around Wamic, Tygh Valley, and Dufur.

They put a postcard inside each package explaining the PUD was trying to stay connected and keep customers supported. Those who wanted a full energy-saver kit could call or go online to sign up, and the PUD would deliver kits to them.

Travis says the response was twice what they expected.

The full kit contains a selection of several kinds of LED bulbs, a power strip, a flow-reducing showerhead, and a faucet aerator.

“They are all really great pieces of technology that are so mechanically simple,” Travis says.

He and Cesar praise the help of Hillsboro-based Efficiency Services Group (ESG), which performs services for utilities. “We got a call from them one day out of the blue,” Travis says.

ESG bulbThe ESG representative told him many utilities were in the same position where they couldn’t do weatherization projects. When requested, ESG could send someone in person to drop a box on a doorstep and knock on the door. If the door was answered, the ESG representative could explain the program. If not, they would leave the box.

“That started a huge push,” Travis says.

He and Cesar made it their priority to help the underserved first. The next step was getting the kits to income-qualified customers and to renters in various types of multifamily residences—something the PUD did not have the staff or time to handle itself.

The response has been so strong it’s already showing up on the PUD budget. The PUD’s fiscal year starts January 1. In the current fiscal year, changing to LED bulbs saved 431,379 kilowatt-hours. That’s enough to completely power all the homes in Dufur and Maupin combined for an entire year.

That’s good news for PUD ratepayers, and even better because approximately 91% of the program’s cost was paid for by BPA energy-efficiency incentive credits. The PUD budget was only out-of-pocket $18,500.

The result is a new goal: no customer left behind. That means every single-family home in The Dalles is eligible for the free kit. Customers can sign up online on our Energy Efficiency Kit page or call ESG at (503) 907-2903. The PUD is not set up to take orders directly.

“What do we do from here?” Travis asks. “There’s got to be a lot more that we can do to help out our community. It’s definitely great that we could come out of this with a positive mindset and know that there are ways to help.”

The rewards for Cesar are personal as well as professional. “The ‘never leaving somebody behind’ touches me,” he says. “I did the whole Marine Corps thing. So, it’s like being able to give back to my community in a way that I didn’t think was possible. It just feels good to be a part of something like that. Everybody does their job—that’s what we get paid for. But it’s what you do beyond that that makes the difference.”