By Ivan Raconteur
Buying and maintaining our homes may be one of the biggest expenses most of us encounter. The good news is that there are many ways we can save money on energy costs by making simple changes around the house.
One way to save money is by participating in programs offered by energy providers.
According to Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association, which serves some 40,000 homes and businesses in Wright and western Hennepin County, consumers can save up to 58 percent in energy-related costs by participating in off-peak programs.
These programs benefit the providers by allowing them to manage electric use during high-demand periods, and they benefit consumers by allowing them to purchase electricity at a reduced rate.
About half of Wright-Hennepin’s customers are already enrolled in at least one such program.
One option is a dual-fuel program.
Under a dual-fuel program, electricity is the primary heat source. Electricity used to heat the home is billed at a reduced rate of 3.4 cents per kilowatt hour (about 58 percent less than the standard rate).
Gas or oil is used as a backup for participants in a dual fuel program. During periods of high demand for electricity, these customers are switched to the secondary heat source, which keeps homes comfortable.
McLeod Cooperative Power Association, which provides electricity to more than 6,000 residents, businesses, and industries in rural areas of McLeod, Renville, Sibley, and Carver counties, has similar programs.
Just as there are programs that can reduce heating costs, there are programs under which consumers can save money on cooling costs.
Generally, these programs allow the supplier to manage loads during peak demand periods by cycling air conditioners on and off at 15-minute intervals.
Peak demand typically occurs between 4 and 10 p.m. on the hottest days of the summer.
In return for allowing their air conditioners to by cycled, consumers save money on their monthly electric bills.
Off-peak programs are also available for heating water for household use. Water is heated at night, between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., and is available for use during the day.
In addition to offering programs to help customers save money, many power companies will provide tips for simple things that consumers can do to reduce energy costs.
Xcel Energy offers a brochure titled “Sixty simple ways to save money on your electricity bill” on its web site.
The brochure offers a variety of tips, from simple things such as cleaning refrigerator coils and running dishwashers only when full, to more complicated steps such as installing a programmable thermostat (which can save as much as 20 percent by matching home temperatures to a family’s lifestyle).
Not only can these save money, but they can do so without compromising comfort, since temperatures can be lowered at times when no one is home.
Installing compact fluorescent bulbs is another easy way to save money as much as $25 over the life of each bulb.
In addition to reducing electrical costs for lighting, these bulbs can save money on cooling costs because they do not generate heat the way traditional bulbs can do.
Many service providers also offer home energy audits to help homeowners evaluate their power consumption and identify potential savings.
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