Upgrading Energy Efficiency

Increasing Awareness, Reducing Energy Use, and Improving Lives One Family at A Time

Travis Hardy is an energy management specialist at Northern Wasco PUD in The Dalles, Oregon.

Celilo Village is a small community of Columbia Gorge residents approximately 10 miles east of The Dalles, Oregon, near the mouth of the Deschutes River. Most residents of Celilo Village are members of either the Yakama Nation or the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

When the gates of The Dalles Dam were closed in 1957, subsequent flooding of the Celilo area brought an end to 9,000 years of tribal fishing life at Celilo Falls. This led to nearly 50 years of substandard replacement housing and a lasting, negative impact on Native American inhabitants and their way of life.

After decades of failed negotiations, an agreement was solidified in 2006 between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Celilo community members to build a tribal longhouse for gatherings and ceremonies. By 2009, 15 permanent two-, three-- and four-bedroom homes were completed on the 100-acre parcel of land. These modern, fully insulated dwellings are built on slab foundations and equipped with marginally efficient heat pumps, small wood stoves, vinyl-framed windows, and many multi-bulb light fixtures. While the construction of these new homes was a huge step forward in the reparation process, years of poverty, lack of outreach about energy consumption and efficiency, and geographic separation have taken a toll on the underserved community of Celilo Village.

The NWCPUD Energy Management Department recently noticed a disproportionate number of residents struggling to keep their bills manageable. During the first outreach visit to Celilo Village in mid-2018, we learned that many of the outdoor heat pump compressors had prematurely failed due to a lack of maintenance and manufacturer warranty expiration. Once these systems fail, they no longer provide affordable heating to families, necessitating the use of the costly “emergency heat” furnace function.

A backup heating method for these customers is a centrally located wood stove, which requires firewood to fuel a powerful heat source located at the entrance to the hallway in an open living room. Most of the wood stoves no longer have original features such as glass in the doors, rope seals, or handles, and are not being used. In some instances, the wood stoves have been removed due to health and safety concerns. All of these issues sent a strong message to the PUD that this community needed substantial support sooner rather than later.

During the appointment for their initial energy-efficiency assessment, longtime Celilo residents Fred and Karen Whitford mentioned that in addition to repairing their failed heat pump, they struggled with the constant replacement of lightbulbs in the home. The original fixtures installed were outfitted with 75-watt incandescent bulbs, and few had been upgraded. After discussing the advancements in LED bulb technology, the Whitfords began to grasp the cost of simply lighting these homes with approximately 30 incandescent lightbulbs per home. Needless to say, we put this measure at the top of our list to tackle next.

During the next nine months, several residents took part in NWCPUD’s Energy-Efficiency Upgrade Program and were eligible to add a ductless heat pump, replace broken windows and exterior doors, and install a heat pump water heater. In conjunction with this homeowner upgrade program, our team worked with members of Efficiency Services Group Inc. to design a free direct-install lighting upgrade program for all NWCPUD customers.

With the help of John Macapagal, ESG energy efficiency manager, every Celilo Village home was upgraded or supplied with lumen-equivalent, 9-watt LED lightbulbs, water-saving showerheads, and a smart power strip in one upbeat, powerful day of connection and support. All Celilo Village residents were enthusiastic. Many homeowners opted into the direct install program, which allows us to install all replacements. This single day of service and outreach should provide an estimated savings of 15,560 kilowatt-hours per year for this community.

While lower monthly bills and an increased energy-efficiency consciousness are powerful customer benefits in their own right, these valuable programs also have inspired residents to be more hands-on with home maintenance and more communicative about utility bill concerns. This empowered connection between NWCPUD and its customers allows for a quicker response to abnormalities in use and fosters a sense of mutual understanding when it comes to serving Northern Wasco County with compassion and integrity.

NWCPUD looks forward to continuing to serve Celilo Village residents and all of our consumer-owners with energy-efficiency programs that positively impact the lives of our customer-owners for years to come.