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Posted on: February 7, 2024

Amidst Surging Energy Bills, Energy Action Plan Promotes Energy Efficiency

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By the Nevada County Energy Action Plan Working Group

More and more Californians find themselves grappling with the soaring costs of home energy bills. This is no different for Nevada County residents and businesses. We spend an exorbitant, and increasing, amount of money on electricity and gas to stay cool in summer and warm in winter, to heat water for showering and dishwashing, to keep our lights on and to run the ever-growing number of appliances and electronic devices in our homes. No surprise that our utility bills are twice as high as those of average Americans. And they keep rising. According to the San Francisco Chronicle the total energy bill for an average California home, including electricity and gas, has gone up by 56 percent just over the last three years, three times faster than the rate of inflation over the same period.  Don’t expect this to end soon either.  Starting in January this year most of us are paying an extra $32.50 on average per month for our PG&E bill, courtesy of the California Public Utilities Commission that gave the green light to PG&E to make its customers pay for the long overdue overhaul of a failing power grid. Residents of Grass Valley and Nevada City will see some relief once they start getting power from Pioneer Clean Energy.

Staggering energy bills are posing a significant financial strain on our family budgets, leaving less room for spending on other necessities, such as food, healthcare, and savings. Increasing energy expenditures also affect the budgets of local businesses, resulting in higher prices for their goods and services. Public services are also affected, as schools, fire and police departments, libraries and other public institutions are forced to cut other expenses or reduce their services in order to be able to pay higher utility bills.  This triple energy burden affects people on lower and fixed incomes disproportionally and can push some into poverty.

To address this unsustainable situation, Nevada County, as well as the cities of Grass Valley and Nevada City, received a grant in 2019 to produce an Energy Action Plan with a goal of helping residents, businesses, schools, public agencies, and nonprofits, in significantly reducing their energy use and bills. The plan calls for an overall decrease of electricity use by half and gas use by one third by 2035.  A joint committee consisting of county officials and representatives from the local private and nonprofit sector was formed at that time, but unfortunately the Covid epidemic slowed action drastically. Recently a group of community volunteers have started working with county officials to re-energize the EAP working group, which is embarking on an energy efficiency campaign starting this year. 

The main focus of the information campaign will be on raising awareness about ways to conserve energy and to increase energy efficiency, encouraging voluntary actions by residents, businesses and public agencies to reduce energy use and utility bills. Many people don’t realize it, but there are lots of different actions that every homeowner, renter, or business owner can take to significantly reduce the amount of energy they use.  There are opportunities available to anyone, from simple behavioral changes, to insulation upgrades, weatherizing, purchasing energy efficient appliances, or installing high-efficiency heating and A/C. Installing solar panels will reduce your energy bills even more, and have the added benefit of providing you with 100% renewable energy, unlike electricity generated by PG&E, which uses only 40% renewable energy sources. 

We recognize that not everyone can afford the cost of installing solar panels or replacing a heating and cooling system, even though the resulting bill savings will almost always pay back that investment over time. The same is true for less expensive actions such as improving insulation and weatherization of homes and buildings, or buying more energy-efficient appliances. Fortunately, to make such initial investments more affordable, an increasing number of financial incentives are becoming available, including tax credits and rebates (some very generous ones) that people, business owners, school districts and others can qualify for.  New rebates are expected to be available later this year, and the EAP information campaign intends to keep people informed and offer guidance on how to qualify for both tax credits and rebates. 

But no need to wait for those incentives. There are many things you can do starting right now that won’t cost you anything, such as turning down your thermostat this winter, taking shorter showers, or changing your furnace’s filters.  Simple changes like these add up and will increase your savings significantly. There is little we can do about what we pay for electricity and gas, but there is a lot we can do to cut down on the amount of energy we waste on a daily basis. And since reducing our collective use of gas and fossil fuel generated electricity is also good for our environment and climate, Nevada County Staff recently recommended the expansion of the existing Climate Resilience Objective to include Increasing Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy, and Energy Storage Capabilities. This will be voted on during the February 20th Board of Supervisors Meeting.

Want to learn more? Visit Nevada County’s Energy Efficiency and Climate Resilience web pages, if you're interested in helping with this campaign or joining the Energy Action Plan working group. Or just let us know what type of information about energy efficiency you would like to receive in the future. We would like to hear from you!

 

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