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For customers of the Roanoke Electric Cooperative in rural North Carolina, high energy costs are much more than a pesky bill or a grudging expense. “We’re one of the poorest areas of the nation,” says Curtis Wynn, the cooperative’s president and CEO. “We have a lot of low-income individuals who are our members and, quite frankly, a major portion of their monthly budgets are consumed by paying their electricity bills.”
Wynn says he has seen monthly bills reach nearly $700. But high rates aren’t to blame. It’s often the homes themselves that are the problem. Drafty windows, leaky ducts and poor insulation are common, and that means that much of the heating and cooling it takes to keep them comfortable slips outside, leading customers to use much more energy than they should have to — an estimated 10 to 20 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
The simple solution to this problem is an energy efficiency upgrade — patching leaks in ductwork, sealing the frames of windows, laying insulation in attics, replacing old heat pumps. The costs can range from a few hundred dollars to about $8,000, but these interventions can result in energy savings over time that more than offset the expense. It’s a pragmatic investment that lowers costs in the long run.