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PNM audits for energy efficiency

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Charles Russel, a home inspector contracted by PNM, replaces a 60-watt incandescent bulb with a compact florescent bulb during a PNM home visit. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Charles Russel, a home inspector contracted by PNM, replaces a 60-watt incandescent bulb with a compact florescent bulb during a PNM home visit. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Monie Corona says Public Service Company of New Mexico’s new home energy audit program is a huge bargain for any homeowner who wants to cut energy bills.

The program, which began March 5, offers a house walk-through by specialists to assess home energy consumption, suggest ways to cut waste and provide information about rebate programs to help upgrade appliances.

Charles Russel checks Monie Corona’s insulation in the attic of her West Side home during a PNM energy efficiency audit on March 26. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Charles Russel checks Monie Corona’s insulation in the attic of her West Side home during a PNM energy efficiency audit on March 26. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

The technicians also will install a programmable thermostat, compact fluorescent light bulbs, low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators — all for just $40.

“The thermostat alone is worth the price,” said Corona, after program specialists visited her two-bedroom West Side home in late March. “The thermostat gives me a lot more control of my energy use, like a programmable coffee maker, and the guys who did the walk-through will send me a full report in a few days showing me ways to lower my bills.”

The report is a comprehensive, customized assessment of the individual’s home that includes specific suggestions based on the site visit. It also details which appliances in the home are eligible for upgrade rebates, with instructions on how to apply.

“It’s educational, and that’s important, because energy efficiency is something I don’t know a lot about,” said Corona, an elementary school teacher. “As a kid, you’re told to turn off the lights or shut the faucet while you brush your teeth. But as a homeowner, money can be tight, so to have someone come out to show you what else you can do and install some devices is fantastic.”

Response to state law

The program is part of PNM’s effort to comply with the Efficient Use of Energy Act, under which public utilities must achieve 5 percent savings off 2005 retail sales by 2014 through energy-efficiency measures, and 10 percent by 2020.

The company has offered a host of rebates and other benefits since 2007, when the act took effect, to encourage residential and commercial customers to reduce energy use.

These include:

  • A refrigerator recycling program that pays customers $50 when they trade in their clunkers, which technicians will haul away free of charge.
  • Rebates on most high-efficiency, “Energy Star” appliances, such as $50 for a new dishwasher, $75 for a clothes washer, and $125 for a refrigerator.
  • Discounted CFLs that customers can buy at participating retail outlets.
  • A demand-side management program that pays participants an annual stipend if they volunteer to allow PNM to temporarily shut off cooling and lighting in homes and businesses during summer months.
  • Construction and retrofit rebates for commercial customers.

All those programs remain in effect, but PNM added a few new ones this year. These include the home energy audit, plus rebates for customers who install efficient home-cooling systems and swimming-pool pumps, and consulting services for building owners and managers to make operational improvements.

All PNM customers help pay for the programs through an energy-efficiency charge on their bills approved by the state Public Regulation Commission. That charge increased this year to about $1.84 per month for the average customer, up from about $1.49 last year, to accommodate the new programs.

Customer demand

PNM created the home energy audit in response to customer requests for more information about saving energy in their homes, said PNM spokesperson Ryan Baca.

“Customers have been asking us how they can lower their bills, or if we can help them identify where their energy use is coming from, but until now, we’ve only been able to give general assistance over the phone,” Baca said. “Now, customers can get somebody’s expert eyes with a walk-through.”

The devices installed during home visits immediately will help to cut energy use. And, in the case of programmable thermostats, homeowners will enjoy greater comfort by setting heating and cooling systems to automatically turn on and off at key times, such as cranking up the furnace in the early morning before getting out of bed, or in the evening before coming home from work.

Changing behavior

But the underlying goal is to educate homeowners about energy efficiency and, hopefully, change behavior.

“If you swap out candescent light bulbs for CFLs, but then leave the lights on longer, there’s less opportunity for savings,” Baca said. “It’s not just a matter of installing things, but about raising customer awareness. Bringing an assessor into the home helps with that.”

Charles Russel checks Monie Corona’s air-conditioning unit outside her West Side home on March 26. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Charles Russel checks Monie Corona’s air-conditioning unit outside her West Side home on March 26. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

During walk-throughs, technicians record the model, age, efficiency levels and general condition of appliances to assess whether there is waste that can be cut by upgrades or repairs, and to determine which appliances qualify for rebates, said Charles Russel, a field manager with Ecova Inc., which conducts the home energy audits for PNM.

All of their findings are later recorded on the customized report to homeowners, with specific estimates on energy and dollar savings for each recommendation contained in the report.

Apart from swapping out inefficient appliances for modern ones, the field managers often find small things customers can do to lower costs.

“When I look at refrigerators, I make sure the gasket seals around doors aren’t torn, or that the light turns off when the door closes,” Russel said. “You’re wasting electricity if the light stays on, and you’re spending more energy for cooling because the light makes it hotter inside.”

The assessors also look at insulation and ventilation in attics.

“We’ll look for simple things, like tape falling off ducts or water leaks,” Russel said. “We look at the general condition and put it in the assessment for the homeowner. Then it’s up to them to pursue any recommended remedies.”

The devices that field managers install are worth more than what PNM is charging for the entire home visit, said Ecova Program Manager Dave Tynan. The thermostat alone is valued at more than $40, and a similar home energy audit by independent professionals can cost hundreds of dollars.

“It’s a very good value for homeowners,” he said. “You’re almost getting it all for free.”

In fact, there is no charge for households that earn up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or $44,700 for a family of four.

The program is currently available to Albuquerque residents. It will spread to Santa Fe starting April 7 and to the rest of PNM’s customers statewide in late April.

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