Energy adviser: What size is your carbon footprint?

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When energy counselors at Clark Public Utilities explain your carbon footprint, they are talking about the total amount of greenhouse gases and carbon emissions that you generate every day from burning fuels such as gasoline, natural gas, propane and even an open wood fire -- or using energy produced by burning these fuels.

These carbon emissions, or greenhouse gases, are measured in tons as our carbon footprint. Take your refrigerator, for instance. According to a U.S. Department of Energy analysis, refrigerators are the largest user of household appliance energy and contribute 1,661 pounds of CO2 to the atmosphere, annually. On the other hand, if you use cold water when washing clothes, you can reduce CO2 emissions by up to 14.9 pounds of carbon emissions per load, depending on washing machine type and hot water temperature.

How are we doing here in the Portland-Vancouver area in terms of our total carbon footprint? A national study ranked Portland-Vancouver as among the best (No. 3) for large U.S. metropolitan areas in terms of carbon footprint per household. Seattle ranked sixth. That’s thanks to the region’s predominant use of nonpolluting hydroelectric power to light our houses, run our household heating systems and bake our pies.

But as the cost of energy increases, reducing your carbon footprint takes on new importance. You can save money, cut greenhouse gas emissions and reduce environmental impact all at the same time. There are plenty of online household emissions calculators that can help you determine your carbon footprint. Try the emissions calculator at www.epa.gov.

According to national research, the average American produces 26 tons of carbon dioxide a year. To put that in perspective, it takes six 25-year-old pine trees to absorb one ton of carbon dioxide a year. Investing in projects such as solar or wind energy or reforestation efforts are ways of reducing our carbon footprint. This is known as “carbon offsetting” and can help slow the effects of climate change.

Tackling your carbon footprint

What ways can families and individuals reduce their carbon footprints? Here are some tips:

• Drive more fuel-efficient vehicles -- high-mileage cars, hybrids or those using alternative fuels. Electric cars are also coming to the market.

• When possible, carpool, bike or use public transportation to commute.

• Try to reduce the number of flights you take.

• See if your employer will allow you to work from home one day a week.

• Turn off your computer, monitor and other electronics when not in use.

• Switch to more energy-efficient lighting, and turn off lights when leaving a room.

• Turn the thermostat down in winter and up in summer.

• Seal air leaks in your house.

• Reduce the use of hot water and hang out the washing rather than tumble-drying it.

• Use curbside recycling to recycle glass, paper, metal and plastic.

• Buy products that contain recycled content, such as paper, lumber products, flooring and motor oil.

• Buy only durable, long-lasting products, and purchase used goods when possible.

• Purchase local foods and products to cut down on the environmental impact of shipping.

• Do your weekly shopping in a single trip and use reusable bags.

• Plant a tree.

“Green Lights” option

One way to reduce your carbon footprint is by enrolling in Clark Public Utilities’ Green Lights program. You pay $1.50 for a 100 kilowatt-hour block of renewable energy credits, in addition to your regular bill. You can buy as many blocks as you’d like to offset all or part of your electricity use. The Bonneville Environmental Foundation invests Green Lights purchases into new renewable energy projects in the region. To find out more, go to www.clarkpublicutilities.com and type “Green Lights” into the search box to find out how to become carbon neutral.

Energy Adviser is produced by Clark Public Utilities and relies on the expertise of utility energy counselors and staff, who provide conservation and energy use information. To contact us call 360-992-3355, email ecod@clarkpud.com or visit www.clarkpublicutilities.com.