Energy Adviser: Counselors trained to find energy savings

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A call comes in to Clark Public Utilities' energy counselors every 12 minutes during business hours Monday through Friday. That's an average of 200 calls per week. The utility's energy counselors take turns answering the energy efficiency hotline at 360-992-3355 and work with customers to help them cut energy waste.

"People call with all kinds of questions about how to lower their monthly bills. We can help most customers find answers over the phone, but sometimes it takes a home visit to get to the bottom of the issue," said DuWayne Dunham, energy services supervisor.

The most common question is, "Why is my power bill so high?" Other times the questions can get a bit funny -- like this one: "Is turning my oven on and opening the oven door a good way to heat my home?" No, it's not.

Energy counselors undergo extensive training and know about all aspects of residential and commercial energy usage, building science, weatherization, heating and cooling systems, water heating, lighting, appliances and energy saving tips. They can tell you where to look for energy waste in your home, give you tips on how to be most efficient during the different seasons, or come speak to a neighborhood group. The counselors can also make a visit to your home if needed, at no cost to you.

The utility doesn't sell or install equipment. Instead, the energy counselors offer information, recommendations and lists of local contractors approved to provide and install equipment that qualifies for utility rebates or incentives. Energy counselors can also give you energy saving tips that cost very little, or nothing at all.

"Customers can come to us with any question related to energy use," Dunham said. "When we don't know the answer, we find it out."

Meet the experts

Dunham leads the team of five energy counselors. Since starting out as a meter reader for the utility 17 years ago, he's become an expert in efficiency and enjoys working with customers to solve problems. "It's easy to feel good about my job because it's all about helping people make their homes less costly and more comfortable," he said.

In addition to being a certified energy counselor, Matthew Babbitts is also the residential program manager. Five years ago, he started at the utility as an accountant and later managed a grant-funded community weatherization project. He finds helping customers understand their energy use and implement conservation measures that make sense very rewarding.

Bob West helps customers in the southeast part of the county, including Camas and Washougal. West, who raised three sons as a single father, has worked for Clark Public Utilities for 33 years. "I'm tuned in to what a tight budget means, because I've been there," West said. "For lots of families, getting the cost of their electric bill down can make a big difference in their lives, and it feels good to help."Two newer additions to the team, Bill Hibbs and Amber Hall, will be doing in-home energy reviews for customers in late summer.

Hibbs also began his career reading meters. During his 15 years at the utility, he has worked across departments and understands electric services from multiple perspectives. For 10 years, he managed the utility's street-lighting program and now. as an energy counselor, he helps cut lighting costs for local businesses participating in the utility's commercial lighting incentive program.

Hall's background in social work makes her a compassionate communicator and helps her to understand families' concerns and goals related to energy savings. She's been with the utility for 11 years, and during the heating season joins the Community Care (ComCare) group, which administers programs for low-income customers, as well as seniors or customers in crisis. Through her work in ComCare, she's seen firsthand that sometimes the biggest relief for a family's budget can come from getting the monthly energy costs down -- and as an energy counselor, that's exactly what she helps them do.

To talk to an energy counselor or schedule a free in-home energy review, call 360-992-3355 or email ecod@clarkpud.com.Energy adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.