Conservation measures

The family cat hangs out near the plug-ins that electrify Pete Rosenberg’s Christmas display outside his Highland Avenue home. The Hermiston man pays about $20 extra each month for the additional electricity.

As electric rates go up, consumers have the power to lower their energy bills through conservation.

December, however, can be a difficult month to conserve power.

Christmas decorations suck up electricity. The onset of cold weather makes people want to turn up the heat. Christmas vacations can mean more time at home, translating to more time running the television and other appliances. And any houseguests for the holidays means extra dishes, laundry and showers.

Some people see an increased electric bill as just another part of their Christmas budget. Pete Rosenberg of Hermiston said the collection of inflatables and lights in his front yard add about $20 to $30 to his December electric bill each year, but that’s “not too bad.”

“The joy outweighs the price,” he said.

Rosenberg said he enjoys seeing the lights in his yard and in other yards this time of year. Students walking home from Hermiston High School also complement the decorations.

Katie Wallace, a residential spokesperson for Energy Trust of Oregon, said family visiting for the holidays might increase a customer’s energy usage too.

“People may be doing more laundry, with houseguests,” she said.

Since most of the energy for a load of laundry comes from heating the water for the cycle, Wallace said people can conserve energy by washing clothes on the cold setting. They can also air-dry clothes, or run cycles in the dryer back-to-back to take advantage of the hot air already trapped inside the dryer from the first load.

When it comes to keeping warm this time of year, Wallace said keeping blinds and drapes open during the day helps utilize sunlight to heat the house, and closing the blinds after dark traps heat in. Placing rugs on bare floors can trap heat.

Energy Trust of Oregon recommends setting your thermostat between 58 and 62 degrees at night or when everyone will be at work all day, and 65 to 68 degrees while you’re home.

“That can help keep you comfortable but also save some energy,” she said.

Steve Meyers, spokesperson for Umatilla Electric Company, said for every degree lower that people set their thermostat in the winter, they can save about 2 percent on their heating bill. Lowering your thermostat by 10 degrees every night instead of keeping it running at the same temperature while everyone is asleep can reduce your month’s bill by 10 to 20 percent.

As people consider lowering the temperature in their home, Meyers said getting rid of drafts can make a big difference in their comfort level. UEC provides a free home energy audit, and one of the first things they do is recommend sealing up air leaks with caulk or other means.

“A lot of homes can be really leaky around the windows and doors and things like dryer vents, and it can be pretty easy and inexpensive to fix that,” he said.

Adding insulation in the attic can be more time-consuming and expensive, but there are rebates and tax credits available. Meyers said when he fixed the insulation in his own 1970s-era Hermiston home, he was able to use those incentives to cut the cost in half, and it made a “dramatic” difference to the comfort of his home in addition to saving money on heat.

Both Wallace and Meyers said small conservation measures, like setting the dishwasher to air-dry mode and unplugging devices when not in use, all add up.

It may seem counterintuitive for organizations that make their money by selling electricity to offer up programs and information to help people use less electricity. But Meyers said building power plants is “expensive and risky” so electric utilities would rather see people conserve. Plus, he said, they want people to be able to afford to live in the area and farmers to be able to afford to keep their pumps going.

“When customers are doing well, UEC is doing well,” he said.

There are ways that people can evaluate their own energy use, if they’re not interested in UEC’s free energy audit. Wallace pointed to a free online home energy review available on Energy Trust of Oregon’s website. It asks questions about a home or apartment’s age, size, heating system and other relevant questions before giving a customized list of recommendations for ways to conserve more energy.

There are programs through the state, Energy Trust, UEC and other power providers that provide low-interest loans, rebates, tax credits and other assistance for conservation projects, such as buying a more energy-efficient appliance.

More utilities are installing new “smart meters,” which give customers detailed reports of how much power they use every hour. That allows them to see what behaviors cause a spike in usage and what conservation measures work best. Hermiston Energy Services recently installed the meters for all of its customers, and Pacific Power is about halfway through installing smart meters throughout its service area.

Other cost-saving tips from Energy Trust of Oregon and Umatilla Electric Cooperative include:

  • Phone, laptop and tablet chargers use electricity even when they’re not charging a device, so unplug them when they’re not in use.
  • Plug electronics like your television, DVD player, computer and printer into power strips that can be easily turned off when not in use.
  • Let hot foods cool down before refrigerating or freezing them so your fridge doesn’t have to work so hard to cool down.
  • Make sure hot air is flowing freely from your heating system by regularly cleaning and replacing filters and make sure registers are clear.
  • Use a microwave or toaster oven instead of the stovetop or oven to heat food.
  • Take short showers and don’t let the water in your sink run constantly while you’re brushing your teeth or washing dishes by hand.

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