Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Are the Utility Companies Duping the Public?

As everyone is well aware the cost of energy has gone significantly higher in the last couple of years. This has spurred and interest in energy conservation. A little late in my opinion, kind of like closing the door after the dog gets out, but I digress.

Because higher energy costs hit everyone where it hurts, their wallet, the utility companies have been forced through public outcry to offer some kind of relief. Now I do not know what is being done or proposed in other states across the nation, I will only be focusing on where I live and work, Connecticut.

What has been instituted in Connecticut through the two major electric utilities, Connecticut Light & Power (CL&P) and United Illuminating (UI) is a program titled Home Energy Solutions (HES). This is touted by the utilities as; “A Comprehensive Service to Help Lower Your Energy Bills”.

The HES program is funded through the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund (CEEF). The CEEF is financially supported by all CL&P and UI customers through the conservation charge on their electric bills and paid for by customers of Connecticut Natural Gas, Southern Connecticut Gas and Yankee Gas. In other words the customers are paying for this service. In essence it’s a give back.

The service however is not free, there is a charge of $75 for most customers with the only exception that I’m aware of for Wallingford Electric Division (WED) customers. This program is free for those lucky enough to have WED as their electric provider.

The cost of the program is a bargain and I encourage everyone to take advantage of this service with one caveat, do not expect to save much money on your utility bills after the job has been completed.

The focus of the program is repairs to the home. Not specific repairs identified for each individual home, but more a blanket approach. The web page explaining what the program encompasses states;

The service may include, followed by a list of energy repairs and upgrades.

The most significant and impressive of these is the blower door assisted air sealing. Unfortunately the job is focused on finding big leaks in order to drop the reading a few hundred points. The job performed is in no way complete or comprehensive.

The purpose of this dissection of the HES program is to provide understanding to homeowners in Connecticut who are seeking relief on their energy costs. The utility companies are selling the perception that this program will provide a significant and comprehensive solution to homeowner’s high energy costs. This in fact is not the case.

As a home energy auditor/inspector I have performed many audits on homes after the HES program was completed. The homeowners contacted my company because,
  1. Their energy bills were still high and were dissatisfied and
  2. They were seeking advice from a knowledgeable, independent energy professional

My company conducts a service called the Home Energy Tune-uP a comprehensive energy efficiency improvement analysis specific to the individual home. No repairs are performed instead the energy wasting culprits are first identified and then a report is assembled in which each available cost effective energy saving measure is charted. What in effect is presented to the customer is a pin point plan of how and where they can save money on energy in their home.

The other and most important aspect of the Tune-uP service is the fact it is performed by Connecticut licensed home inspectors, not contractors (who are not licensed). Home inspectors analyze homes most every day. In order to perform their jobs home inspectors must be knowledgeable on the plethora of components and systems found in a home. As a licensed profession this requires initially obtaining formal training and doing an in field apprenticeship followed by continuing education in order to maintain the license.

So are the utility companies duping the public? Maybe a little, but it’s always been caveat emptor, buyer beware. The utility customer should research the program to understand the scope and focus of the service. It is certainly worth while for every utility customer to take advantage of the program. If the homeowner is seeking solutions and expert advice a Home Energy Tune-uP should be the first step to resolving their high energy costs. In fact having a Tune-uP done before the HES program would provide the homeowner education on precisely what their home needs to be more energy efficient.