In 2016, I’m trying to walk the talk via The Great Money Experiment—a year of avoiding giving my money to Big Business.
I knew it would be impossible not to give money to Big Business during energy/utilities month. We have exactly one choice for electricity (Alliant Energy) and natural gas (Black Hills Energy), and two choices for Internet (MediaCom and CenturyLink). They all fall into the category of Big Business.
The CEO of Alliant Energy, Patricia L. Kampling, makes $7.7 million (full comp). This is up from $2 million in 2010. We’re paying for that. I suppose Alliant can’t help that the people of Iowa granted it the monopoly it enjoys…
Black Hills Energy is part of Black Hills Corporation, whose CEO, David R. Emery, raked in $6 million in 2014. Overall executive compensation was up 55 percent from 2013. (This is what Bernie is talking about, ya’ll.)
MediaCom, which is the Internet company we currently use, has exactly 2.1 of 5 stars on Google ratings. In our town, we can’t even talk to a local person on the phone anymore. It all gets routed to a centralized call center (mostly a robot). This is why I’m really excited about a municipal Internet project in our town, which will hopefully provide a better, cheaper, faster option in the future.
Plan B: Use Less Energy
Without making drastic changes (such as moving to an off-grid house), I’m stuck giving my money to these companies right now. So, my next best bet is to use less of their product. And that has been the message from the universe this month.
It started at our Transition Streets meeting a couple of weeks ago, where we spent two hours talking about energy conservation and efficiency. Our handbook states:
Often we can waste a lot of energy without realizing it, and there are generally significant savings to be made—without having to go without.
Perfect! Here are the changes I committed to making:
- Close vents upstairs. When our daughter is away at college, the upstairs of our house is mostly unused. It doesn’t really make sense to blast heat up there.
- Reprogram thermostat. I was feeling pretty good about having set my thermostat to 65 degrees during the day when we’re not here. My Transition Streets group encouraged me to turn it down even further. They assured me that our dog would be okay. (“Our dogs stay outside all winter,” said one of them. Good point.) I also decided to take it down to 62 degrees at night.
- Reduce phantom power usage. I’m pretty obsessed with unplugging small kitchen appliances when they’re not in use, but I knew there was more I could do. I walked around the house with a Kill a Watt (that I borrowed from the library) to see what other electric devices were using power, even when turned off. I did my best to unplug or turn off everything I could, such as the microwave in the basement we never use.
- Schedule furnace checkup. My group members informed me that one can get a rebate from Black Hill Energy for a furnace checkup. We’ve never had a furnace checkup. (I keep thinking that our house is new, but really, it’s ten years old.) Apparently this should happen once a year.
I also checked our water heater to make sure it wasn’t leaking heat (in which case, it would need a jacket). It was fine. I also confirmed that our systems are as energy efficient as they can be, at least by 2006 standards. I knew from a previous energy audit that our house is tight and well-insulated.
Energy Conservation IS Sexy
I’ve heard people say that energy conservation isn’t very sexy—especially if you’re trying to raise money from donors for energy efficiency upgrades vs. a solar array.
This may be true, but as I mentioned above, I’ve been hearing about energy conservation/efficiency from several different sources the past couple of weeks.
In our local newspaper on February 16:
Muller, whose company advises many school districts throughout the state, said prior to embarking upon a solar project, the District should take advantage of rebates available from Alliant Energy to help cover the cost of replacing fluorescents.
(Yes, LEDs is also on my list, but I’m waiting for the CFLs to die—is that the right approach? Maybe not.)
At an “energy breakfast” sponsored by Winneshiek Energy District, I listened to Kamyar Enshayan, Director of the UNI Center for Energy and Environmental Education, talk about a solar project of the Cedar Falls Municipal Utility. They are building a 1.5 megawatt array through a “Simple Solar” initiative, where community members can buy shares of the array. While it’s a cool project, our speaker’s point was this: the move toward renewable energy must go hand in hand with reducing our energy consumption.
In the latest issue of YES! magazine, the inside cover quote reads:
Asking whether renewable energy could enable Americans to maintain their current lifestyle is therefore equivalent to asking whether renewable energy can keep us living unsustainably. –Richard Heinberg
As much as I would love eventually to live off the grid and be completely independent of Big Energy, it is good to know that there is much I can do to reduce my energy consumption right now. I can’t wait to see what my electric and gas bills tell me about my progress.
P.S. One of our Transition Streets members also made an excellent point that energy use is not just tied to our homes. How we relate to the rest of the world significantly impacts how much money we give indirectly to Big Energy. Packaging, transportation, beef production, etc., contribute to increased energy use. Something to keep in mind!
Her Lost Year
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