WESTERN WAYS

A Little Help Could Reduce the Strain on the Energy Grid by Mark Gindin Imagine trying to work for a residential air conditioning contractor in Oregon or Washington. It’s a tough sell here in the Northwest. We’ve had to resort to warning our customers that without air conditioning they might sweat in the summer. Fortunately, some believe it,. others want air conditioning simply to add to the resale value of their homes as the Californians move north. Truly baffling in this soft market, however, are the actions and inactions of our electric company here in Portland. It doesn’t seem to be aware that customers are interested in air conditioning. We have no electric rebates, no incentives, and no recognition of the opportunity to sell more electricity. Last summer, we had that nasty energy crisis with rolling blackouts in California. Like the rest of the country, we blame that and all of our other energy ills on Enron. A convenient scapegoat, until we realized that our electric company, Portland General Electric (PGE) actually IS owned by Enron. Finally, we have a real scapegoat. How convenient. Apparently, it’s the only real asset the bankrupt energy broker has left. Considering the shock of last year’s rolling blackouts, the later jump in electric prices, the Congressional investigation, the bankruptcy, the ties to politics, and the general ill will, would it not be nice for PGE to help their customers? Having come from New Jersey, land of Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G), where utilities combine for public service, the apparent non-concern from PGE has been disconcerting. We had tons of rebates in New Jersey. In Oregon, not so much. On the other hand, the State Office of Energy is on the ball. If you buy a 90% AFUE furnace with a variable speed motor, they provide a $350 tax rebate. The same furnace gets a $200 cash rebate from the gas company and a $200 rebate from the manufacturer. These models get snapped up, even for a product that you actually have to have here in the Northwest. So how about something to encourage those efficient variable speed DC motors? They’re available for any air handler, and they use one-fifth of the electricity. In addition, they can circulate air to improve indoor air quality, help prevent mold by reducing humidity, and are very quiet. But the electric company doesn’t seem to get the idea that people can be encouraged to do the right thing for everyone. Just up the ante, throw them a bone, pat them on the head, give them what they want. We’re trying to get them interested in saving money. I’m usually the last to suggest that the government, or the utilities, or some other overbearing bureaucracy should involve itself in the market. It usually just screws it up. But because it isn’t discriminating, or transferring assets, or favoring one group over another, these incentives can work, and help us put food on our industry table. Oregon has a unique bond between the manufacturers, the state, and the utilities to encourage the installation of a single type of furnace. But since the brand range extends past this one variable speed high efficiency model, there are other ways to encourage energy efficiency and comfort. Encourage higher SEER values by rebates. Promote the new refrigerants with tax credits. Give away programmable thermostats with each high efficiency system. Maybe we don’t have to subsidize the purchase of all energy options. But with a good system of incentives and a good marketing campaign, maybe we can work together to promote the best equipment, installed by the best contractors. We can reduce the strain on the energy grid so it can be used for better things, like pizza ovens and grocery store freezer cases. Mark Gindin is the Service Manager for Tri-County Temp Control in Portland OR. He has encouraged energy efficiency and customer service in the HVAC industry for 15 years. Gindin is a National Board Member of ACCA. He can be reached at [email protected].

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