Saving energy and money

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If wasted home heating and cooling appeared as dollar bills flying out from under doors, slipping out through window frames and swept away by the wind, most people would chase after their cash.

It would drive home the importance of weatherizing your home to save money on utility bills.

Deborah Fox-News-Bulletin photo: Homeowners Debbie Christensen and Michel Richard bought a 22 panel photovoltaic solar system to shrink their carbon footprint and their electricity costs.

It’s fairly inexpensive to do and PNM has a new program this year to assist consumers. The Home Energy Assessment program is a customized home walk-through service to identify where energy is being lost.

For a fee of $40, waived for income-qualified customers, you get a programmable thermostat installed as part of the deal, and a tutorial on how to program it.

Having a programmable thermostat helps save money by allowing heating and cooling to be adjusted for optimal convenience, says Ryan Baca, with PNM corporate communications.

The thermostat can be programmed to provide heating on cold mornings and cooling on hot afternoons while timed for minimal output when no one is home.

Also included in the service are free compact fluorescent light bulbs, the installation of faucet aerators and a low-flow shower head to reduce water usage without losing water pressure, a documented report on the walk-through findings including ways to reduce energy usage.

For income-qualified customers with a working refrigerator at least 10 years old, there is also a free replacement refrigerator while supplies last, Baca said.

“This is a very valuable program and something that customers have asked us for many years. For a very long time, customers wanted some real assistance with finding ways that they could reduce their energy use inside their home without having to go to an outside agency to help with these types of things,” she said. “Up until this program, we didn’t have any ways to go into somebody’s home and really do one-on-one type of work with folks. Now, with this program we can do that.”

The customized report can also identify rebate opportunities for Energy Star appliances such as $50 for dishwashers, $75 for a washing machine, $75 for a refrigerator and $125 on up for larger appliances as well as the savings on monthly utility bills Energy Star appliances provide.

“By going through this program, it will also identify what other rebates you can qualify for that you can only get through this program,” Baca said.

Some other ways to save on utility bills include caulking around windows, using window-film, insulating electric outlets, planting leafy trees by windows that get direct sunlight for shade in the summer yet allow passive solar heating in the winter.

Mindful thermostat settings can reduce costs because each degree over 68 is 3 percent more on your electric bill.

Place air-conditioning units in a shady window because the heat from the sun makes the appliance work twice as hard, using more energy.

There is a list of energy saving tips at pnm.com/save and to make an appointment for a PNM home energy checkup call 1-855-775-6491.

PNM service providers will be in Valencia County the last week of August and the first week of September, but this won’t be the last opportunity, Baca said.

Solar power is another way to save money on utility bills and PNM has a solar energy program available to any PNM customer, residential or business that installs a qualified solar energy system and has it interconnected to the PNM power grid.

It is important to discuss your plans with PNM before purchasing or leasing the solar panels to make sure the system will be compliant with PNM’s requirements, Baca said.

A properly insulated and weatherized house can reduce the size of the solar system you will need, said Alex Sanchez, University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus green building teacher and co-author with wife, Laura, of the book, “Adobe Houses for Today.”

“A solar PV system can be one of the best ways to reduce your electric bill — and the savings can be dramatic,” Sanchez said.

“For families on a fixed income, this can be a solution for rising electric bills.”

One such family is Suzanne and James Taylor. Last November, the Los Lunas couple started leasing a 16-panel solar system from Affordable Solar for their three bedroom, 2,100-square-foot adobe home.

They had been interested in solar energy for years, but buying a system was too costly. Leasing is an option more compatible with their budget.

Suzanne Taylor said it does require home ownership/mortgage, but there is no charge for installation and it does not require a down payment.

“It enabled us to have solar energy and reduce our carbon footprint without having to pay out $20,000 to do it,” Taylor said.

They have a 25-year lease and after that they will own the system free and clear.

Taylor said before they had the solar system, their winter utility bill would spike up to about $200 a month and in the summer it was about $125 per month. Now, their monthly bill is stable; every month it is $65 plus the leasing company is responsible for maintenance and upgrades, not the Taylors.

However, since they are leasing, they don’t receive any money from PNM for what their system puts back out on the grid after their energy consumption.

The current rate, as of Aug. 7, is 3.5 cents per kWh for small systems — most residential systems are small. Every surplus kWh earns the homeowner 3.5 cents.

Another retired couple from Los Lunas, Debbie Christensen and Michel Richard, bought their 22-panel solar system out-right for $25,000 from Consolidated Solar Technologies.

They receive a 30 percent renewable energy federal tax credit and a 10 percent state tax credit on the total cost of the system.

It produces more electricity than they consume, so they also receive about $300 annually from PNM, plus they no longer pay a monthly electric bill, which averaged about $84 per month, Christensen said.

“The cost of an average installation is approximately $18,000 before any of the tax credits, and it’s just under $11,000 with state and federal tax credits,” said Patrick Griebel, general manager of Affordable Solar.

The price includes design, permitting, installation, inspection, warranty and insurance.

“If people finance their system, most of the time their loan payment on the solar system is less than their electric bill,” said Affordable Solar consultant Crystal Felice. “They start saving money right away.”

But if you plan to install solar photovoltaic panels, be sure to get detailed estimates of cost and savings from several installers, Alex Sanchez said. “Get the electric loads down to a minimum before sizing the solar PV system.”


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.