The ongoing Brown Bag conversations about housing in Wallowa County, hosted by the Josephy Center, took an informative side-road Nov. 21.
Energy Trust of Oregon presented information on how and why to access energy efficiency funding for new and existing homes, both owned and rentals.
Energy Trust is an independent nonprofit that serves customers of the five investor-owned utilities: PGE, Pacific Power, Natural Gas Avista, NW Natural Gas and Cascade Natural Gas. Their focus is on finding ways to improve efficiency in new and existing buildings so as to limit the need to construct new power plants that would increase the ecological footprint of energy generation.
Since the nonprofit was introduced in 2007, it has “saved” enough energy to serve approximately 516,000 individuals.
“If everyone here reduced their energy usage by 10 percent, that’s a whole bunch of energy available for the next new home or next new business or industry without building additional power plants,” said Susan Badger Jones, Eastern Oregon Outreach Manager for Energy Trust of Oregon.
The nonprofit maintains offices in the Wallowa Resources building in Enterprise and works closely with that entity in ag and business developments.
“Wallowa Resources is a key partner for us with irrigation and hydro that they are doing and with the Integrated Biomass Campus,” Badger-Jones said.
Caryn Appler, new and existing homes program director for Oregon Energy Trust from the Pendleton office, provided a shotgun blast of information on programs available for housing.
Appler has a construction background and is well-informed about what contractors need and how to troubleshoot energy problems.
“If you take anything from this meeting, take my phone number,” Appler said. “I am your point of contact.”
The focus on energy efficiency in building structures is both state-wide and national, Appler pointed out, noting that Oregon’s Governor Kate Brown has recently signed an executive order that set the state on the path toward net-zero energy-ready buildings as state standard.
Net-zero energy means that a structure does not consume more energy than it generates through renewable energy sources built into the structure.
“New technology is being built into codes and contractors need to know about them,” she said.
The net-zero plan states that over the next six years, new buildings will have to be ready for installation of solar panels, parking structure will be designed to include electric vehicle chargers; high-efficiency water fixtures will be required; and residential buildings will have to meet enhanced energy efficiency levels and design that makes the home ready for solar panels.
According to the executive order, among the benefits for the state is support for new (mostly small) technology businesses that sustain a workforce of over 40,000 jobs statewide, in addition to multi-million dollar energy savings for the state. The benefit to the low income and underserved is improved housing and lower energy costs.
The interest in new technologies and high efficiency is high in Wallowa County. Enterprise Electric was recently named among the top 500 solar energy installers in the nation. They ranked eighth in the state.
Co-owner Jared Hillock said that solar installations now account for 25 to 35 percent of Enterprise Electric’s business.
The company is building a 10,000 square-foot net-zero building using geo-thermal heat pumps, high rated insulation, LED lighting and other efficiency measures. The building will serve as an example for customers and contractors.
“We’re excited to have this as a tool to inform people as to how this works,” said Hillock.
The company does all the paperwork to get the customer federal, state and Energy Trust incentives and provides continuous efficiency analysis and service for solar panels.
“We work with Energy Trust to put together a system that helps with monitoring usage,” he said. “On a new or existing home, we come in and analyze your power bill and see what kind of solar aspect your home has and design a system that fits your budget as well as your power bill.” he said.