Monday, May 29, 2017

HEET: Houghton County residents cutting energy use, saving money on utility bills

Houghton Energy Efficiency Team (HEET) Manager Melissa Davis displays information about HEET's work during the April 26, 2016, Lake Superior Celebration at Michigan Tech's Great Lakes Research Center. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

HANCOCK -- Houghton County has seen a significant overall drop its home energy consumption since entering the Georgetown University Energy Prize competition, the Houghton Energy Efficiency Team (HEET) has reported.

Approximately 50 communities are in the running for the $5 million prize, which challenges communities to rethink their energy use and implement creative strategies to increase efficiency. HEET is an ad hoc group of volunteers formed to help Houghton County compete for the prize.

During the first two years of the competition, from January 2015 through December 2016, average power use dropped 13.0 percent for residential electrical customers compared to the previous two-year period. On average, Semco Energy residential customers cut their natural gas consumption by 15.9 percent over the same time frame.

The Georgetown University Energy Prize statistics are calculated by totaling the energy use of Semco, UPPCO and Ontonagon County REA customers and dividing that by the number of residential and municipal utility bills. This method helps to account for changes in energy use that are unrelated to energy conservation practices, such as a growth or decline in population.

Ten finalists for the Georgetown prize are expected to be announced soon; but whether or not Houghton County is selected it is still a winner, said HEET manager Melissa Davis.

"I am super satisfied," Davis said. "Houghton County residents have saved some money, and many are a little warmer come winter."

The electrical and natural gas usage figures are encouraging, but they are preliminary, Davis noted. They will be weighted to reflect any weather-related variation in energy use during the time frame of the contest.

Many of HEET’s activities were made possible by Efficiency UNITED, which offers a variety of energy-saving programs to Upper Peninsula Power Company (UPPCO) and Semco customers. Early in the competition, HEET launched a county-wide effort to encourage those customers to take advantage of Efficiency UNITED services.

"We’ve connected people with rebates that take the edge off of energy-efficient homeowner upgrades, and we’ve encouraged people to switch incandescent light bulbs for LEDs," Davis explained. "Probably the most popular Efficiency UNITED program has been the refrigerator replacement program for income-qualified residents. A close second was the program to replace electric water heaters with heat-pump water heaters, which bring the operating costs down substantially."*

Some of the energy efficient products promoted by Efficiency UNITED include these LED light bulbs and night lights and a water saving shower. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

Though the first phase of the Georgetown competition is winding down, HEET is still in business, she noted.
 

"We are still doing what we’ve always done: finding leaky homes and working with volunteers to tighten them up," Davis said.

HEET trains volunteers to winterize their own homes, then brings together groups of volunteers to help tighten up other residences in the community.

"It’s like a 'handy guy' party, where the homeowner gets an assist and everyone has a good time," said Davis. "We do this twice a month."**

None of HEET’s success would have been possible without widespread community support.

"Dozens of local businesses, municipalities, service organizations and individuals put an oar in and kept HEET moved along," Davis said. "Thanks to their support, we’re still going strong."

* For more information on Efficiency UNITED, visit efficiencyunited.com.

** To learn more about HEET go to energizehoughton.org. Click on "Volunteer" to find out how you can help with winterizing residences.

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