By Jenny Neyman
In the last 20 years, Betty L. Peterson’s work situation, income level and monthly bills have changed. Her refrigerator hasn’t.
After a recent home visit and electricity audit from an Energy Wise crew, she realized just how out of whack her refrigerator is with her financial situation.
Peterson, of Soldotna, was a registered nurse for 40 years and retired when she was 62 after needing a hip replacement. There wasn’t the emphasis on retirement savings back then as there is today, so when Peterson stopped working, her income dropped to just Social Security and a longevity bonus from the state. With electricity, heat and other bills creeping up over the years, in addition to refinancing her home to get a loan for a new well and septic system, Peterson has found herself increasingly interested in saving money.
“Back 15 years ago working full-time, I don’t think I was as conscious of the bills as I am now,” she said.
When a friend in Sterling told her about the Energy Wise program, she figured it was worth a try.
“Well, anything that will help me save energy,” she said.
Energy Wise is a grant-funded program through the Rural Alaska Community Action Program meant to educate low-income families, the elderly and disabled households on alternative energy sources and ways to lower their energy use — and, consequently, their energy bills. On the central Kenai Peninsula, it’s run through the AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America, based in Sterling, and continues through the end of July.
Tyna Ledda, a VISTA AmeriCorps member based in Sterling, manages the program, with help from the recently graduated Energy Wise youth crew — Clancy Skipwith, of Kasilof, and Leslie Meyer, of south Soldotna. They’ve held an energy fair with demonstrations of compact fluorescent lights and other energy-saving technology, handed out pamphlets with tips and information, given presentations and are doing residence visits through July.
Initially the program was supposed to be limited to Sterling residents, but they haven’t gotten enough takers so have opened it to the wider, central peninsula area, even going so far as knocking on doors to offer their free, no-strings-attached services.
“Who would have thought it was so hard to give away free stuff?” Ledda said. “I think Sterling has lot of independent-minded people. Some of them are cautious, they don’t want to take anything if they feel like there’s a string attached or if they don’t know if their information is going to be given out, and I don’t blame them. Nobody likes to be beholden. But word of mouth has been spreading. And even after the program has ended I am still willing to educate people about how to lower their energy costs.”
The energy audit visits are to low-income homes, where the Energy Wise crew uses kilowatt meters to measure the electrical consumption of appliances, checks for mold and mildew, educates residents about ways to reduce their energy bills and distributes bags with CFL bulbs, a carbon monoxide detector, a window insulation kit, a refrigerator thermometer, surge-protector power strips and a digital hygrometer to measure moisture.
There’s no revolutionary new technology to distribute; nothing complicated to install or operate; no groundbreaking, never-been-heard-before ideas for reducing energy consumption. It’s more about reinforcing good behavior, like turning off lights and not running the dishwasher or wash machine unless it’s a full load, and demonstrating why even little changes can make a big difference.
“Some things you already kind of know, but we forget about them so we don’t do them,” Ledda said. “It’s incremental knowledge, not necessarily one revelation, it’s a series of steps and things that we can show people. And a lot of it are things that anybody can do to reduce their costs. They don’t necessarily need somebody to show them how to do it.”
Changing incandescent bulbs to CFL bulbs is one of the biggest, easiest changes. Most residents participating in the Energy Wise program knew CFL bulbs are more efficient, but didn’t realize how much more — they use two-thirds less energy and last at least six times longer — or didn’t want to bother with the added expense. That’s what was keeping Peterson from making the switch.
“I haven’t gotten them because they’re so expensive. So these will help me getting started on those,” she said. Continue reading