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Saturday, August 17, 2013

New Braunfels Herald Zeitung

Pedernales Electric Cooperative is working with Randolph-Brooks Federal Credit Union (RBFCU) to offer PEC members low-interest loans to finance energy-efficiency or renewable energy projects.

The arrangement allows PEC members to qualify for membership in RBFCU, which is offering special Energy Saver Loans to Co-op members with interest rates starting at 3.9 percent APR for 24 months.

The loans are designed to promote energy-efficiency improvements in members’ residences or businesses and to help finance installation of renewable energy generation resources, such as solar and wind technology.

"By opening the door to credit union membership and a low-interest loan, Co-op members have another option to help finance the renewable energy and energy efficiency products that may help lower their day-to-day electric costs," said Michael Racis, PEC communications vice president.

“PEC members have expressed interest in loan programs, and ultimately the program could also help the Cooperative meet renewable energy and energy efficiency goals."
The Energy Saver Loans are subject to credit approval, and rates and terms will depend on the applicant’s credit rating and other factors. PEC members may be asked to provide a copy of a PEC statement to confirm they are Cooperative members.

The agreement is a unique example of “Cooperation among Cooperatives," one of seven Cooperative Principles that guide PEC and other independent, private and not-for-profit organizations owned by the members they serve. The member-owned RBFCU offers financial services and also has branch offices in areas served by PEC.

For details about the loan program, visit www.pec.coop/loan or contact RBFCU by visiting www.rbfcu.org/PEC or calling (800) 580-3300.

Monday, August 5, 2013

By Glenn Evans
Longview News-Journal

Ozone season officially begins each Memorial Day, but Northeast Texas is fast approaching the dog days of smog creation.

"My concern is, come about mid-August, we’re going to be in a world of hurt from the heat index, dryness and lack of winds," Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt said, describing the classic conditions for formation of ozone, or ground-level smog. "August is historically very, very hot, no wind and no rain. And those are the three main things when you’re trying to maintain attainment, when you’re on the bubble."

The bubble Stoudt fears bursting is this region’s 3- or 4-year-old attainment status with the Clean Air Act.

The five-county coalition, North East Texas Air Care, pushed down emissions of ozone precursor nitrogen oxide using a voluntary model called an Early Action Compact. Eastman Chemical Co., Texas Operations, AEP Southwestern Electric Power Co. and other local polluters invested millions in smokestack scrubbers and other anti-smog technology.

And it worked — at least by succeeding in putting the area on the bubble of non-attainment.

Good standing with the Clean Air Act prompts both public health and economic benefits. Environmentalists point to study after study showing rises in asthma and other respiratory ailments in areas such as Houston and the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, the state’s two non-attainment areas.

And economic development boosters point to the loss of federal highway funding and the increased financial burden drivers could face under stricter annual inspections that come with non-attainment.

"They have a meter that hooks on the back of your exhaust," said Stoudt, who serves as co-chairman of North East Texas Air Care, or NETAC. "And if you don’t meet up (to the standard), they withhold that inspection sticker until you have some work done. That’s going to hurt the working man."

So far, so good
Ozone levels at the East Texas Regional Airport monitor exceeded the Clean Air Act’s 75 parts-per-billion standard eight times in 2012.

That’s happened twice so far this year. Five of last year’s eight exceedances had occurred by this time last year.

Those events are loosely related to Ozone Action Days, which are declared as a prediction when conditions for smog look favorable in forecasts. There were 11 Ozone Action Days in 2011, three last year and none so far this year.

Residents are asked on Ozone Action Days to refrain from driving, filling gasoline tanks or operating small engines such as lawnmowers and washing machines during the hottest hours. Vulnerable populations such as people breathing ailments or who are pregnant are encouraged to stay indoors during those hours.

Stoudt also sits on the executive committee of the 14-county East Texas Council of Governments, which on Thursday approved a series of public service announcements on ozone that will soon be heard on local radio.

A balancing act

"I truly believe all the industry around here, since I’ve been on NETAC, they put together millions of dollars to reduce or eliminate or redirect those pollutants to another process where you can take them and shove them in the ground," Stoudt said. "Is (local air quality) the best? No. Is it better? Yes. Can we do better? Yes. But, again, it’s getting back to that balancing act — how much better can you do before you start affecting the economy … and free enterprise?"

Karen Hadden, executive director of the Austin-based Sustainable Energy for Economic Development Coalition, noted the need for vigilance on both the economic and public health fronts.

"We’re lucky that this year the weather hasn’t been as extreme as it was in 2011, but it’s still important to reduce zone pollution, which makes asthma worse and leads to emergency room visits for people who can barely breathe." she said. "It’s good that the East Texas Council of Governments and NETAC are looking at ways to reduce ozone. Their ideas are good ones."

Hadden visited Thursday’s council of governments meeting in Kilgore to publicize a Sept. 3 Energy Innovation Conference in Tyler. Experts, including the former head of the Texas Public Utility Commission, will be discussing how to meet future energy needs while lowering costs through green innovation at the conference.

"It’s especially important to reduce energy use during the peak hours, usually 3 — 7 p.m. in Texas, and when possible, shift the use of electricity to other times of the day," Hadden said. "For example, laundry can be done before or after those hours. Businesses and homeowners can reduce their electric bills while keeping building comfortable by increasing energy efficiency — through better insulation, lighting, and windows. More efficient appliances and air conditioning units can make a huge difference, and fans can help some in reducing the need to run air conditioning."

Stoudt agreed, but stressed that voluntary actions which have proven successful should be allowed to continue.

That feeling prompted defensive disdain at the federal government when the Environmental Protection Agency announced two things a couple of years ago: partnership efforts such as the Early Action Compact no longer would be recognized; and the 75 ppb ozone standard is going to be tightened to between 60-70 ppb.

An EPA spokeswoman in Washington, D.C. was not prepared to comment Friday on the Early Action Compact question. She also directed a reporter to a section on the EPA website that says the new ozone standard will be announced in 2013.

Nationwide non-attainment

Along with the two Texas regions, 44 other sections of the country are in non-attainment. The nearest out-of-state region is the Baton Rouge, La., area.

Stoudt said setting the standard too strictly could overbalance the equation.

"We’ve been in attainment (with the Act) for the last three or four years," Stoudt said. "But we’ve been on the cusp of non-attainment. But, if you go to that (60-70 ppb) measurement, it’s going to be the whole state of Texas that’s in non-attainment. And not just Texas, across the whole country. That’s got to be a concern everywhere."

Stoudt said the whole formula determining attainment and non-attainment should be amended to address at least three areas in which this region perennially gets penalized for things beyond local control.

One is the trees, which along with cars and plants emit volatile organic compounds. VOCs are the third ingredient with heat and nitrogen oxide in ozone creation.

"Instead of getting penalized for having a lot of beautiful trees in East Texas, why not give us credit?" he said. "And then what about the 30,000 cars that come through Gregg County (on Interstate 20) every day. Why shouldn’t we get some credit for it?"

Thirdly, and perhaps most problematic, is the transport issue. Measurements at the three NETAC ozone monitors — there’s one in Karnack and one each at the Gregg and Smith county airports — prove a significant amount of ozone here is blowing in from other areas.

"These are transient particles in our area that we didn’t produce but we get penalized for," Stoudt said, before acknowledging the plausibility that pollution produced here blows into other regions. "That’s a good point. There’s probably some people around us that are getting transient particles from this area in their measurements."

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July 22nd, 2013

By Michael W. Kahn | ECT Staff Writer
Electric Co-Op Today

Energy efficiency upgrades are great—if you have the money. That’s the stumbling block for a lot of people.

Jones family members

The Jones family, members of Aiken Electric, were among the 125 cooperative homeowners who participated in the Help My House pilot program. (Photo By: ECSC)


But a project in South Carolina proved that electric cooperatives can loan that money to their members, and collect it back through a charge on their monthly bills.

That was the premise of Help My House. Eight distribution co-ops, a transmission co-op, and the statewide teamed up for the pilot on-bill financing project.

Owners of 125 homes received 10-year loans at 2.5 percent interest for energy efficiency improvements. The loans averaged $7,684 with the money coming from the Agriculture Department’s Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant program.

"We deliberately went and looked at measures that would pay back quickly," said Lindsey Smith, director of public and member relations at The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina. That’s why 91 percent of the homes received attic insulation, and more than 80 percent got HVAC upgrades.

"We were modeling these homes very conservatively so that the savings people gained on an annual basis would more than cover their loan payments. And we wanted, in an ideal scenario, for them to be putting money in their pockets," Smith said.

The average home cut electricity use by a third. Payback time is averaging 6.5 years. With the improvements expected to last at least 15 years, annual savings for the average home once the loan is paid off will rise to more than $1,100 per year.

Cash in hand is great. But Mike Smith, manager of energy programs at Central Electric Power Cooperative, said there’s more to it.

"They’re getting something else out of it besides the money—whether it’s comfort, or control over their energy use," said Smith.

Columbia-based Central Electric pays more for power during peaks, and Help My House helped with that—particularly in the winter.

"There was always benefit," Smith said. "It might have been 27 percent peak reduction in the summertime. In the wintertime our peak reduction was over 40 percent."

While the pilot project is over, four South Carolina co-ops now offer on-bill financing programs. Mike Smith said it’s not just a way to reduce energy use, but "a service to their members to be more in control of their energy consumption."

Help My House was strictly residential. But there’s a school of thought that businesses could also benefit from an on-bill financing program.

In the Touchstone Energy® 2012 National Survey on the Cooperative Difference, commercial members were asked what barriers were keeping them from making energy efficiency changes. One-third cited limited or no finances.

"They really have no access to capital," said Tom Laing, director of market research at TSE Services, which conducts the annual survey.

Though they’re short on cash they’re long on willingness. Eighty-one percent of businesses questioned said they’d be very or somewhat likely to invest in energy efficiency projects if there are no upfront costs.

"The will is there," Laing said, "it’s just the barriers are too high."

South Carolina co-ops based their pilot on the model first proposed in 2010’s Rural Energy Savings Program Act (RESPA), national legislation that would have made nearly $5 billion in low-interest USDA funds available for residential energy efficiency.

RESPA drew bipartisan support and passed the U.S. House in September 2010, but failed to reach the Senate floor. A similar program is contained in legislation being considered this year by the House and Senate.


Related Content

A final summary report on Help My House is available as a PDF here.

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This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. SEED Coalition is making this article available in our efforts to advance understanding of ecological sustainability, human rights, economic democracy and social justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a "fair use" of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond "fair use", you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

July 13, 2013

By Greg Bluestein and Kristi E. Swartz
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

State utility regulators voted 3-2 to force Georgia Power to amp up the solar energy it generates, a move that could impact the power bills of millions of residents. Whether it means higher or lower rates, though, remains hotly contested.

The Public Service Commission’s decision to require the powerful utility to add 525 megawatts of solar energy to its network was celebrated by environmentalists, tea party activists and solar companies who rallied to turn the vote into one of themost heated issues before regulators in decades.

It faced stiff opposition from other conservative groups and utility executives, who said Georgia Power already generates more than enough energy for its customers. Commissioner Stan Wise, the most outspoken opponent, called the decision “unconscionable.” He also warned it could drive up rates, but Georgia Power executives suggested that was uncertain.

The expansion, backed by Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, doesn’t call for an eye-popping increase in solar energy, at least not when compared with the coal-fired, natural gas and nuclear plants that generate most of Georgia’s electricity. The expansion amounts to roughly one-fifth of the capacity of the two reactors now being built at Plant Vogtle.

But it sends a powerful signal that the commission is embracing renewable energy even if it means upsetting Georgia Power, which usually gets what it wants. And it emboldens the coalition of solar supporters preparing to challenge Georgia Power over other high-stakes issues in the coming months, such as a proposed 6 percent rate hike.

Supporters added some safeguards to the solar expansion during Thursday’s meeting. They voted to require that any solar projects must be reviewed by an independent monitor and approved by regulators. And they said the projects must not raise customer bills in order to be accepted.

Regulators and utilities are increasingly seeking out alternatives as new federal rules aimed at reducing pollution and combating global warming have pushed plants that burn coal and oil out of favor. Yet Georgia and the rest of the Southeast lag behind the rest of the nation in using renewable energy, partly because lawmakers in other regions have required the use of solar, wind and biomass.

What’s still uncertain is the bottom line to consumers. The utility has said expanding to more solar could save or cost ratepayers as much as $9 million either way, largely depending on the volatility of the price of other fuels, such as natural gas, and how much it pays solar providers.

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This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. SEED Coalition is making this article available in our efforts to advance understanding of ecological sustainability, human rights, economic democracy and social justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a "fair use" of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law best natural weight loss supplements. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond "fair use", you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

May 14, 2013

The Gilmer Mirror

(AUSTIN) — The opportunity for Texans to save money on energy efficient appliances is fast approaching. The state’s annual ENERGY STAR® Sales Tax Holiday is from Saturday, May 25, through Monday, May 27.

"Texans can save twice when purchasing energy efficient appliances during the Memorial Day weekend," Texas Comptroller Susan Combs said. "Shoppers are expected to save about $2.9 million in sales tax during the holiday, and the energy efficient products will also help them save on their utility bills."

The sales tax break applies to ENERGY STAR® qualified air conditioners priced at $6,000 or less; refrigerators priced at $2,000 or less; ceiling fans; fluorescent light bulbs; clothes washers; dishwashers; and dehumidifiers. There is more information at: http://www.window.state.tx.us/taxinfo/taxpubs/tx96_1331/.

Estimated annual energy and water savings for eligible products are listed in the chart at the bottom. Clothes dryers are not ENERGY STAR® certified you could check here.

Audio clips about the ENERGY STAR® Sales Tax Holiday can be found at: http://www.window.state.tx.us/newsinfo/radio/.

ENERGY STAR® Appliance vs. Conventional
Appliance Type Energy Savings Water Savings
Central Air Conditioners 15%  
Room/Window Air Conditioners 10%  
Refrigerators 15%  
Ceiling Fans 50%  
Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs 75%  
Clothes Washers 20% 35%
Dish Washers 10% 20%
Dehumidifiers 15%  

Source: U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Fair Use Notice
This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. SEED Coalition is making this article available in our efforts to advance understanding of ecological sustainability, human rights, economic democracy and social justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a "fair use" of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond "fair use", you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.