You have energy questions; here’s where to find answers: ask the Energy Coach!
Whether it’s renewable electricity or fuels, for home or business, you’ll find useful information, in our archive of Co-op Currents articles, and other reference materials.
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Powershift is an initiative with members to lower electric hot water cost, by working with your Co-op to control our electric demand together.
Incentives & Discounts
Efficiency and Usage
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Button Up WEC is a service to help our members save energy and save money! In fact WEC wants to give you money to help you get started. Yes you heard that right; we want to give you money! Button Up 2024 incentives - PDF (including Efficiency Vermont and other incentives).
Why are we doing this? The state of Vermont has a goal to become 90% renewable by 2050. That includes all sources of energy; not just electricity. In fact, WEC is already 100% renewable so your electric use is already meeting the state’s goal!
Now we want to tackle fossil fuels like propane, oil and gasoline. As part of standards enacted by law makers, we must offer programs to get you and your neighbors reach this amazing goal of 90% renewable. So here’s what we’re doing in 2023.
As part of WEC’s service to you we are offering several efforts including what we call Button up WEC. Working with Efficiency Vermont (EVT) and our partner Capstone WEC members may be eligible for incentives to improve energy performance of their residences.
The primary role WEC has in Button Up WEC is to inform members whose homes meet minimum energy performance standards, to evaluate equipment and help make fuel choice decisions to improve comfort, reduce operating cost, save on energy expenses, and increase the equity value of your home. WEC will be offering incentives that supplement Efficiency Vermont incentives for eligible equipment when installed by approved certified contractors.
Homes which do not meet a minimum energy performance standard will be referred to a Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® audit contractor to assess and report on the improvements that will save energy and money. The member then selects which improvements to invest in, and what incentives are available to lower the cost of those improvements.
Within the Co-op’s 41-town service territory, WEC aims to provide Button Up WEC incentives by adding insulation, reducing air infiltration, and other air “tightening” techniques.
Contributions from Washington Electric include $100 toward cold-climate heat pump (HP) incentives, up to $2,000 toward ground source heat pumps (GSHP), $100 toward first-time installation of wood or pellet stoves, and $100 toward a heat pump water heater replacing a fossil-fired hot water system. For more information on heat pumps, visit Efficiency Vermont's page on heat pump heating and cooling systems. WEC will provide this assistance on a first-come-first-served basis until the Co-op reaches its 2023 budget limit.
Weatherization generally means making a building as air tight while allowing for adequate mechanical ventilation. Examples are insulation, calking, and air leakage sealing. But we go a little farther by performing a comprehensive look at your home through equipment. We perform blower door testing and can identify heat leakage through temperature sensing equipment. By understanding how energy is used at your home, we can help you make smart decisions based on economic benefits of reducing energy use (fossil fuels in particular).
Weatherization does NOT mean (for example) “change the windows”, because most windows are often not a high economic benefit choice, compared to (1) reducing air leakiness and (2) adding insulation to areas of inadequate performance. Weatherization contractors pin point air leaks by performing g energy audits, and then contracting for specific improvements which will save money and reduce energy consumption.
If the member’s residence has never been tested for Air Changes per Hour, or had a HERS score of 85 or less, or has already received weatherization services from a Weatherization organization, or another of the minimum performance standards (above) then the next step would be to select an eligible contractor to evaluate the building’s conditions. It pays to know where air is leaking and then to devise a specific plan to fix it.
WEC will provide direct technical assistance for any interested member, including guidance on appropriate next steps and recommendations for in-network Home Performance with ENERGY STAR contractors. These energy professionals carry a national certification and provide access to Efficiency Vermont’s incentives.
Income eligible members may potentially be eligible to receive weatherization services at no cost through Vermont’s Weatherization Assistance program. Income guidelines can be found here. Income eligibility is determined through our partner, Capstone Community Action. Households that receive other forms of assistance may pre-qualify
It’s your energy iceberg! Energy Iceberg
- Download and complete 2024's Thermal and/or Transportation incentives forms.
- Send completed form(s), and any additional documentation as noted on form(s), to the Energy Coach by mail or email: Email to: email@example.com
Mail to: Washington Electric Coop, Attn: Energy Coach, PO Box 8, East Montpelier, VT 05651
QUESTIONS? Call the coach! 802.224.2329
kWh 101. Although we may all associate electric usage with COST (as in: “my electric bill is $75”), in order to understand why an electric bill is what it is, you need to examine HOW MUCH electricity your household uses. Residential Co-op members use electricity in units called KILOWATT HOURS (kWh).
Q. How many kilowatt hours does the average Co-op household use daily?
A. The average kilowatt hours used per DAY, based on more than 10,000 residential Co-op households is around 18 kilowatt hours (kWh). This does notmean all Co-op households use around 18 kWh/day; rather there is a range in average, from single digits per day, to some households who use 40 or 50 kWh per day.
Electricity is a flow of energy; kwh/day is a measure of the rate of use or flow rate. To manage COST one needs to understand where the energy is flowing, and at what rate of use. Some electric loads are “driven” by occupancy or season of the year; others run year-round. Electric loads are also differentiated by their voltage (typically either 120 volts or 240 volts); voltage also implicates how a member can directly measure any load’s impact (kwh/day).
In examining your electric bill what you should consider is: (1) what is your most recent AVERAGE DAILY usage (KWH/day), and (2) how does this measure of your household energy intensity vary (or not) over time.Cost is driven by usage; usage is measured in kwh/day or rate of use.
The first way to review this is to look at the most recent AVERAGE DAILY KWH usage on your Co-op bill. Bills are driven by (1) average usage and (2) cost per KWH. The cost per kwh also impacts the total bill; WEC provides 200 kwh/month of low cost electricity; all additional kwh’s per month are priced higher than the first 200. The kwh/day rate of use then also impacts the cost per kwh; lower usage means a relative lower cost per kwh.
Q. My neighbor’s house is bigger than ours/ they have more kids than we do/we’re gone all day, and the neighbors are not/ etc, yet our bill is more than theirs. Why?
A. Although each home is different, there’s little correlation between house size and electric energy intensity ( as measured in AVERAGE DAILY electric usage (KWH/day). Rather, electric usage depends on (1) what equipment you own, and (2) how you use it (“duty cycle”).
Q. I’ve heard that it makes sense to switch from electric hot water to another hot water system. Is this true?
A. Typically, yes. The key is to understand (1) the nature of what the energy is being used for, and (2) some idea of the amount of energy being used. Electricity makes good sense for residential loads such as lighting, refrigeration, entertainment, and numerous relatively smaller end uses. There are ways to make sure that these types of electric end uses are reasonable and technically efficient.
There are four typical residential energy uses through which we consume energy primarily as HEAT. These four residential energy end uses are: (1) space heating, (2) domestic hot water, (3) cooking, and (4) clothes drying. Generally, if the need is “HEAT” then it makes sense to look for equipment and fuels to generate the heat on-site, rather than through using electricity to provide HEAT.
Typically in Vermont one can purchase the equivalent amount of HEAT for less money than directly through the equivalent amount of kilowatt hours of electricity. However, it does not make long term sense to make energy decisions only on the basis of relative operating costs; rather, it’s important that such decisions take account of the long term effect of both equipment and fuel choices. This is done by “life cycle costing” or looking at the long term relative total costs, and not just today’s fuel cost.
One uncertainty in making long term energy decisions is what will future fossil fuels cost? And exactly because of this uncertainty the better option today is to reduce the total amount of HEAT used, regardless of whether from fossil (non-renewable) or renewable sources.
In order to compare today’s fuel costs between various options, one needs to take current price and convert into an equivalent unit cost for a unit of HEAT; this conversion then allows comparison of fuels, shown as their cost per million BTU’s (a unit of heat measurement), or “$/MMBTU”. In Vermont this calculation can be found on the DPS website.
Q. How can I make my home more energy efficient?
A. This is a simple question with potentially complex answers. First, examine your electric usage, in AVERAGE DAILY KWH, to determine your relative electric energy intensity. IF your average usage is 10 KWH/day, then there’s less savings (energy or dollars) opportunity in this area. IF your household electric usage averages more than 18 KWH/day (for example), there may be any number of ways to lower usage and cost.
An energy efficient building is one which uses less overall energy, regardless of source. A low energy building is a high performance building. Building energy performance can be measured, and evaluated between buildings, by various means. There are now national standards for building performance, and a net work of trained contractors to asses and remedy today’s buildings to meet or exceed these performance standards.
Most members spend more money on space heating and hot water than on electricity. In Vermont, it is in the space heating and overall thermal integrity of your home that the greatest money savings opportunities typically exist. To learn more, visit, Home Performance with ENERGY STAR.
Members may be concerned with the price of a particular fuel, per gallon or per kilowatthour or per cord. All of these costs are important, but more important, for the long term is HOW MUCH of a fuel or energy source is used. See“the energy iceberg" (PDF).
We saw with the January 1998 ice storm, Hurricane Floyd in September 1999 and major storms since then that nature can overwhelm electric systems. Hundreds of thousands of Vermont residents were without power for days – in some cases, weeks.
These storms caused unusually severe outages. But even shorter outages can cause serious problems, such as loss of heat and consequent freezing of water pipes, not to mention inconvenience.
For homeowners who want to provide themselves with “electric insurance,” there are two main approaches to backup power: You can buy either a generator or a Battery Energy Storage System. Choosing between these alternatives depends in part on which systems in your home are most important to keep running in the event of a power failure. Your choice may also be affected by cost and the differences between the technologies that run these backup power devices.
A generator can be a portable unit (though larger units are typically mounted in place), driven by an internal combustion engine that runs on gasoline, diesel fuel or propane. The generator is connected to the home’s electric service panel by some type of transfer switch.
The size (maximum output) of your generator, and therefore the costs you might incur in purchasing, installing and operating it, will be determined largely by the electric “loads” – for example, heating systems, water pumps and refrigerators – you plan to use it for.
Sizing a generator properly is critical for reliability. Our research and experience have lead to several conclusions about generators. First, it must be understood that maintaining a generator can become a year-round obligation, even though the generator most likely will be used only for short periods. In Vermont, electric companies experience an average of less than 10 hours of outage per customer per year.
Compare that to what a generator manufacturer recommends for the maintenance of a stand-by residential-size unit: run the generator for 2 hours each month, with an electric load of approximately half of its capacity. So just for maintenance (and warranty considerations), the units must be run 24 hours a year, or more than twice the actual need for backup.
For gasoline and diesel generators, the fuel must be kept fresh, so fuel stabilizers are recommended for extended periods of inactivity, and oil must occasionally be changed. Also, generators produce exhaust, which must in all circumstances be vented outside of the building. An additional factor to be considered – and this varies with the size and type of generator – is noise. Siting the unit to minimize the effects of noise on the owners is an important decision affecting satisfactory use.
- Fuel: Typically, a generator runs on gasoline, diesel fuel or propane. Availability and cost of each of these fuel types should be considered when shopping for a generator.
- Maintenance: Maintaining a generator can become a year-round obligation, even though the generator most likely will be used only for short periods. For gasoline and diesel generators, the fuel must be kept fresh, so fuel stabilizers are recommended for extended periods of inactivity, and oil must occasionally be changed.
- Ventilation: Another critical factor is ventilation. Since generators burn fuel, they produce exhaust, which must in all circumstances be vented outside of the building.
- Noise: The amount of noise produced by a generator varies with the size and type of the unit. Siting the unit to minimize the effects of noise on the owners and to provide adequate ventilation for exhaust are important decisions affecting satisfactory use.
- Starting Mechanism: There are three options for the engine’s starting mechanism:
- manual start with a pull cable (like starting a lawnmower)
- electric start (which is done by pressing a start button connected to a battery)
- an automatic, or “smart” transfer switch that can tell when power has been lost and can turn the generator on
The transfer switch is the point where the emergency power source is connected to the home’s electric system and control panel. Both a generator and a UPS require a transfer switch, but with a UPS the switch is always automatic.
Did you know a transfer switch can save the life of your Co-op's line workers?
Generators can pose a hazard for line crews unless there is a properly installed “double-pole, double-throw” transfer switch that ensures that power produced by a generator does not back feed onto the utility’s electric system. A worker repairing a damaged power line could be electrocuted by a charge carried over wires he thought were dead.
With a generator,there is a choice between a manual unit or an automatic switch. The automatic feature requires connection between the generator and a battery to initiate the automatic start. When the power system is operating normally, the battery is kept charged by the electricity from the utility’s system. An automatic system could add up to $1,000 to the cost of a generator.
Please let us know if you do own and use a generator so that we can make a note of it on your account record. The line worker’s greatest fear is the generator s/he doesn’t know about, which could energize the line unexpectedly and put his/her life in peril.
Members installing electric generators are required to notify the Co-op about their equipment, per policy bulletin #37. The Co-op will inspect generation equipment to assure compliance with safety codes.
The Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) is a unit that includes a battery (or batteries), a charging device, and an inverter, which changes the stored 12-volt direct current (DC) electricity to the 120-volt alternating current (AC) electricity that households use. The BESS most commonly has been used for computers or other electronic equipment that must not lose power at all. A BESS “senses” when power supplied by the electric utility is being lost, and then provides the energy to keep the equipment running.
Today's BESS perform this same function for larger home systems such as refrigerators, water pumps, furnaces and lighting. As with generators, properly sizing a BESS is critical to its reliability. This whole-house system is controlled by computer circuits that monitor the status of power provided by the utility. If the power fails, the controller waits briefly (you set the time) before automatically switching over to battery storage. The delay is to avoid making the jump to backup power when the grid is just experiencing a momentary loss of power, not a full-scale interruption.
The battery system remains active until power from the grid is fully returned. In the case of an unusually prolonged outage, battery power can probably sustain a house for a couple of days, depending on the electric load it is being asked to supply. If more storage is required, additional batteries can be easily added. When power returns, the device then transfers automatically back to grid power, and the charger replenishes the batteries.
There is very little maintenance required with properly installed BESS. When fully charged, the batteries are ready to work when the need arises, whether the homeowner is present or not. Owners of vacation homes could install a system to let them know when the power has gone off and that the BESS is doing its job.
Electrical surges from storms, accidents, and other grid disturbances may be gradually damaging your household appliances and electronics. Many repair shops will cite surges as a primary cause of premature product failure. You rely on your appliances, electronics and heating system controls daily – why not take steps to protect them against external surges? HOW? With the Co-op whole-house surge suppressor. A device installed at your meter suppresses external surges before they reach your valuable appliances, protecting them from damage, and saving money buy avoiding repair or replacement.
Surges are also generated inside your home. Appliances can create surges within the home that can damage sensitive electronics. While the meter base unit protects against external surges, select from a range of plug-in devices to protect your TV, stereo, computer, phone and other electronics from internal surges. Many of these devices also protect against external surges coming over phone and cable TV lines.
With all backup power devices, the most important factor of all is protecting your utility’s line workers. Generators can pose a hazard for line crews unless there is a properly installed switch that enables you to see, when the generator is in operation, that there is no electrical connection between circuits connected to the generator and the power company’s electric lines. A UPS system has an automatic transfer switch.
Like water, electricity follows the path of least resistance. That means that under some circumstances the power produced by a generator or Battery Energy Storage System could feed back into the utility’s system. A worker repairing a damaged power line could be electrocuted by a charge carried over wires otherwise believed to be de-energized. Your Co-op needs to know if you own and use a generator so be sure to let us know if you install one.