As he readies to retire this Thanksgiving week, Bob West, an energy counselor and Clark Public Utilities employee for 33 years, checks his phone messages. The woman's voice at the other end was full of emotion. She'd heard of his retirement. She wondered who she was going to call for energy advice now, because West had handled her questions for many years. Finally she gathered herself up and, apologizing for her emotion, wished him a happy retirement. "It's nice to hear that I've had that kind of impact on a person's life," West says, then picks up the phone to call her back.
As an energy counselor, West's job meant going into customers' homes every day to help them find ways to cut energy waste and save money. Sometimes it was a simple fix such as switching out incandescent light bulbs for CFLs; other times it was more complex, like recommending new windows, or a more efficient heating and ventilation system.
You'd think a big bald guy like West wouldn't have a dandruff problem, but his dusty shoulders are a hazard of the job. Even with his broad shoulders, he's able to wriggle around tight spaces in attics and crawlspaces on a daily basis, leaving his shoulders covered with flecks of wood shavings, sheet rock or insulation. He jokingly refers to his "energy review dandruff" as he brushes it away.
West recently went out on two of his last in-home energy reviews. The first was a large Camas home. The woman living there was having trouble figuring out why her electric bill was so high. As he entered her home, he pulled on the shoe covers he always sports inside a home before he started to work. The woman's two dogs tried to distract him, but experience has prepared him for almost anything. He pulled a couple doggie treats from his clipboard and for the rest of the appointment, the dogs gnawed away while West worked. Down in the basement, he found the culprit. Unknowingly, the woman was heating her garage, causing her electric bill to shoot through the roof.
Having solved the first mystery, West moved on to his second visit. The home was a small, one-level home in Washougal, rented by an elderly couple. They had lost their retirement in the economic downturn and were having trouble paying their electric bill. They were hoping West could point out a few easy changes to save money. After looking around, Bob gave them some inexpensive tips, but told them new doors and windows would make a big difference in this older home. West recognized the dilemma the solution caused the couple and he recommended ways to work with their landlord to take advantage of incentives and rebates for upgrades. But, before leaving, he also connected them with customer service to make sure the couple was on a monthly payment plan that was realistic and that they were getting all the help they might be eligible for on their bills.
When asked what his least favorite part of the job is, his usual jovial smile faded. "When I can really do nothing to help," he said. "As a single father of three sons, I have a soft spot for elderly customers and single parents whenever I see them in a tough spot. But the flip side is most of the time there's something I can do, and I feel I can make a difference for them."
West's compassion for people always helped him find a way to put them at ease. Whether they were discussing dogs, baseball, or kids, he found a way to connect. The team of utility energy counselors is ready to continue West's legacy of great service, but his retirement will leave a hole as big as his heart and broad as his shoulders.
And the woman who called? He gave her his cell number -- he figures he can still answer a few energy questions from the seat of his motorcycle.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.clarkpublicutilities.com.