Saturday, April 4, 2020
April 4, 2020

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Energy Advisor: Energy counselors connected to history

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Ask an energy counselor where the office is and you may hear an answer like, “It’s the first office on the right as soon as you enter the state.” This Bridge Substation, to the right of the Interstate 5 Bridge just as you cross the river, is where your call is answered when you ring the energy counselor desk.

“I’ve heard a lot of theories about this building and many believe it controls the bridge, but it doesn’t,” said DuWayne Dunham, senior energy counselor for Clark Public Utilities. “Our team of energy counselors moved here in 2001, and I’ve worked in the building since then — fifteen years.”

The history of what is now affectionately referred to as “Bridge Sub” is long. Back in 1929, sixty thousand signatures were collected by the Washington Granges to start Washington’s PUD movement. Prior to that, electricity was supplied by for-profit businesses. Because the legislature took no action on the PUD petition, it made the ballot in 1930. It passed and paved the way for what would become Clark County Public Utility District, No. 1, officially the name of Clark Public Utilities.

About 1938, Portland General Electric transferred the odd-looking building to the Clark County PUD as its first substation. However, at the time the utility still bought its power from PGE, which was previously the county’s electricity provider.

Today, the building remains as one of three offices Clark Public Utilities employees occupy. “We enjoy a beautiful view of the Columbia River, but we also feel each semitrailer passing by,” Dunham joked about the location. Now, the Bridge Sub houses the energy counselors’ offices, provides storage, and is home to their small fleet of Toyota hybrids.

Recently, Dunham received a call to the desk at Bridge Sub from an east county homeowner who thought his bill was too high. He analyzed the home’s billing history for the past two years, comparing month to month, and noting any weather that might cause upward swings in the bill. Both the historic analysis, and in home review if necessary, can help customers understand their bills better. An energy counselor takes these calls during business hours, Monday through Friday and the building is open for drop-in questions and fluorescent bulb recycling, too.

Leaving Bridge Sub, Dunham headed east in the Prius to the customer’s Washougal home. He met the customer in the driveway and, taking a quick look around, asked the owner the size of the home.

“Five thousand square feet,” came back the reply.

At more than twice the average home size, the bill was going to be higher than normal, so Dunham started asking questions.

“I bet you have two water heaters?”

“We do.”

“Two heating systems, too?”

“Yep.”

“What about refrigerators and freezers?”

“Well, there’s one in the kitchen. In the garage is another, a freezer, and I have a beer cooler,” the customer listed.

“Last question, do you do a lot of laundry?”

“With six of us, it seems like it’s always running.”

It didn’t take long for the customer, still standing with Dunham in the driveway, to see why the bill would be higher than average. Doubling up on appliances, as is often the case in larger homes, also means doubling the impact on the monthly bill.

But there are still ways to cut back, so Dunham took a look around.

During the energy review, Dunham explained that things such as programming the thermostat to avoid heating and cooling an empty house, only running full loads of dishes and laundry, and making sure the water heaters aren’t set too high, can help.

Then, leaving the driveway, he waved and headed the Prius back to Bridge Sub.


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.

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