Energy adviser: Utility’s energy counselors are here to help

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On an average day, the energy counselors at Clark Public Utilities receive 40 phone inquiries from utility customers wanting to know such things as how to reduce their energy costs, how to use an energy rebate or tax credit program or why their power bill is suddenly higher. Sometimes the questions can get a bit wacky.

“Once in a while we get a caller from somewhere out of state, say in Ohio, who wants to know if we can fix ceiling cable heat,” said Rick Cantonwine, one of four energy counselors at the utility. “They’ve found us on a website and don’t realize that we’re a local utility, far, far away.”

But answering questions is what the energy counselor service is all about.

“We can help many of our customers over the phone,” said DuWayne Dunham, energy counselor team leader. “By asking some questions, we can often narrow it (a high bill) down to a leaky water heater or a plugged furnace filter. Often it can be a defective heat pump running on auxiliary power.”

Occasionally, a customer may need a free on-site energy audit to determine how best to resolve heating or cooling issues or to figure out how to cut their monthly power bill.

The energy counselor program has been part of the utility’s customer service effort since the mid-1980s when the Bonneville Power Administration began offering consumer residential weatherization rebates.

Clark Public Utilities buys more than half of its electrical power from the BPA, which sells wholesale energy generated from dams on the Columbia-Snake river system and balances the power supply in the area.

“As the BPA weatherization program tapered off we found ourselves continuing to answer a lot of customer questions,” said Cantonwine, who’s been with the utility 31 years. “We’re getting as many calls today as we ever have.”

A hot topic right now is new ductless heat pump technology that can be a good energy-saving alternative in homes with electric baseboards, wall heaters, or ceiling cable heat. Electric cars and renewable energy are also of interest in Clark County.

“I took my first call the other day about home-based electric car battery-charging technology,” Cantonwine said.

Utility energy counselors staff the consumer hot line 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 360-992-3355.

The utility counselor program does not sell heating equipment or weatherization materials, nor does it do the installation. Counselors will give you an objective opinion about which energy-saving measures might lower your electricity bill and those that probably won’t. The utility offers four separate rosters of private local contractors who are qualified through the rebate and tax credit program to install various weatherization measures and heat pumps.

Energy counselors also can help in the following ways:

• Give you tips on how to winterize your home.

• Guide you in the process of installing new windows, insulation, sealing ducts and or a new heat pump.

• Provide you with written information about conservation products, programs and practices including conservation project loans.

• Speak to your neighborhood group, homeowners association or other organization about energy conservation and the utility’s conservation programs.

About those wacky calls?

“‘My heat pump is smoking,’ is among my favorites,” Cantonwine said. “People think that in winter when their outdoor heat pump is in defrost with steam rising out of it that something is wrong. They call us wanting to know if it’s safe,” he said. “It gives us a chance to explain the technology.”

The Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities energy counselors. Send questions to energyadviser@clarkpud.com.