Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Just One Story

There are literally thousands of stories that could be told of my experiences in the field. This is just one of them. There was an elderly couple who was smart and prepared themselves for their retirement years. The wife became ill and it was incurable. Though the couple prepared themselves for such an event, the incredible cost of medication for a prolong period of time was too much for them. After two years of it, they lost their nest egg and home. He could no longer afford to care for her, so she was put into a nursing home. He rented a small apartment near the nursing home and spent all the day and everyday by her side. Still their bills kept piling up and he became delinquent on them, including his utility bills. As a result an energy survey was scheduled with him to show him how to conserve along with recommendations for weatherization measures that the utility provided especially for seniors.

My job was to educate and inform him on how energy is used in his home and what he could do to conserve energy. After five minutes with him it became apparent to me the circumstances that surrounded the reason for delinquency were beyond conservation. Sitting there and listening to his story was something I have become accustomed to.

My job was therefore to lower his fuel bills and make recommendations for measures designed to do just that. His concern was that he was rarely home and still his fuel bills were high. After looking around his home, we sat down and an explanation was given to him and the actions he could take. When we are in our homes, we use lights, watch TV, cook, etc. Human beings give off two pounds of humidity a day. We do so many things in our home that produces heat and this reduces the demand for heat from our heating system.

An unoccupied home is more difficult to heat, even if you turn down the thermostat. Some of the recommendations given to him were to put jugs of water in the refrigerator; it would create a thermal mass and reduce demand for the compressor. Thereby lowering the cost of operation. Unplug appliances such as microwaves and TV's. Because his home had apartments below, above and along side of it, lower the thermostat even further. Since his plumbing were located on inside walls, it was highly unlikely that his pipes would freeze. The home was not that old and there was some insulation in it. To bring his home to his desired temperature when he came home would only take about ten minutes.

Many more things were discussed and when it came time for me to leave, he shook my hand and thanked me. Shortly after that a field supervisor's position was given to me concerning a far more comprehensive program. It included air sealing, attic and wall insulation, replacement refrigerators and much more. Sixty men and women in teams of two were assigned to me. Their training, knowledge and experience in energy conservation were inadequate. They were all novices to this field.

To say my task as supervisor was formidable, was putting it mildly. One day a-team called me to request permission to leave a site because an old man was ranting and raving and they can't do anything in the home. I immediately viewed this as an opportunity to illustrate to them what was expected of them. They were told I would be right there. To my surprise this was the same elderly man I spoke to before. This time he was not calm and was extremely agitated. I said his name several times; finally I said it with authority. He looked at me and I saw the tears, the anger in his eyes and everything about him screamed why. This was clearly not the same man I met the first time. I looked at him and said, " Do you remember me sir? " I said it again and he recalled who I was. He moved towards me, broke out into tears and embraced me. I helped him to sit down and said, " If this is a bad time for you sir, we can reschedule the appointment?" With his face in his hands, he said, " She's gone. " I repeated about rescheduling.

My men who were facing me were shocked by my response. He replied to the rescheduling by saying, " No. You're already here and you have a job to do." For the next three hours we sat at a table where it was explained to him what this program was all about.

He was taught how to program a thermostat that we just installed. We went over what was being done today and calculated the savings. The same calculations were done for another appointment for the insulation contractor and third visit concerning air sealing by my company. We discussed his, my company's and the Utility's role and responsibilities in this program. Then an agreement was met and he signed it. When we left, he did not thank me or shake my hand. Outside the men were packing up their gear. I walked up to them and said," There is only one thing that I require of you. That is to earn the money you're being paid. Now go to lunch and then to your next site. Call me when you get there."

After this you can say a lot about me. I can say, the Utilities have the right to control their cost. Every year the number of delinquent bill payers increases, the average amount owed increases and the cost of collection increases disproportionately to the other increases. To the bill payers who say the rates are too high and this is a waste of money, the lawsuit that would follow after the termination of service would send your fuel bills through the roof. To the companies who provide the product and services for these programs, earn the money you're being paid. To the regulatory boards of States who approve programs like these, after hearing and considering from Utilities about rising cost, customers who complain about their rates and environmentalist who say they are not doing enough, I tip off my hat to you.

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