Patty in the News

Energy conservation efforts by local governments and businesses could be an example for cities across the United States, Sen. Patty Murray said after a Wednesday briefing.

Officials convened by Spokane Mayor Mary Verner discussed the early results of an energy audit program launched last spring, and pending changes in the city’s recycling program.

Joe Brabeck, the Avista Utilities official managing the audit program, said almost 500 audits have been done in the cities of Spokane and Spokane Valley, and Spokane County, which reimburse the company for most of the $400 cost. Support for the program comes from the Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program, funded by federal stimulus money.

Customers pay $99, for which they receive a comprehensive review of their energy use, and a kit worth $70 filled with compact fluorescent light bulbs, seals and other material auditors can install, if asked, Brabeck said.

One customer told him it was the best $99 he ever spent, Brabeck said, adding that the utility will roll out a low-interest loan program next week to help customers take full advantage of auditor recommendations.

Avista is already rebating some of the cost of improvements like new furnaces to customers whose homes were audited, he said.

Brabeck said audits have already yielded an estimated 17,000 kilowatt-hours in energy savings.

“The cheapest kilowatt is the one you never use,” he said.

Judy Cole, an Avista executive on loan to the city of Spokane, said 10 energy-conservation efforts under taken in 2010 saved $1.8 million.

The city, she said, has 480 separate accounts with Avista, and a total bill of about $8 million. System-wide monitoring will identify best practices, she said, noting that the library branches are in a competition to modify wasteful energy behaviors.

City Utilities Director Dave Mandyke said an overhauled recycling program that will sort materials at a central location is expected to increase homeowner participation from 28 percent to 60 percent.

Murray said budget problems will increase pressure on discretionary programs like energy conservation. But results like those in Spokane demonstrate their value, she said, particularly if there is an education outreach to students.

“We’ve got to get them excited about the jobs of the future,” she said.

- Spokesman-Review