City of Fresno

Statewide LG EE Best Practices: Weekly Update




You are invited to participate in the AB 802 Public Agency Stakeholder Group taking place on Monday June 25, 1- 2 p.m. The deadline to report disclosable buildings to the Energy Commission was June 1, 2018 but it is not too late to comply and spread the word to your affected constituents. Don't miss out on this opportunity to hear program updates, share your feedback, and participate in Q&A. Click HERE to register!


News



Credit:  The Press-Enterprise
 


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Credit: LA Times


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Resources & Opportunities

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Job Announcements



Upcoming events

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Copyright © 2018 Statewide Local Government Energy Efficiency Best Practices Coordinator, All rights reserved.
The wEEkly update for Local Governments and their partners.

Our mailing address is:
Local Government Energy Efficiency Best Practices Coordinator
980 9th St., Suite 1700
Sacramento, CA 95814

UPCOMING WORKSHOP: ZNE for Local Governments





Join a no-cost workshop to learn how to prepare for California's ambitious goals for zero net energy (ZNE) buildings.* 

On behalf of the California Public Utilities Commission, New Buildings Institute will be hosting four no-cost workshops in California in 2017 covering ZNE topics for both local government audiences and those working to retrofit existing buildings to ZNE. 

*A ZNE building generates as much energy as it consumes annually through clean, renewable sources. 



ZNE for Local Governments 

June 13, 2017 | 1:00-5:00 pm
Fresno, CA

This four-hour workshop is designed to give local government staff the information, tools, and confidence to create and drive progress toward zero net energy goals. Case studies show how cities can be leaders within their own public building portfolios by creating a clear code and policy roadmap, and by transforming the market through public awareness. We will review how to achieve climate goals through ZNE pilot projects, deep energy retrofits starting with municipal building benchmarking and portfolio analysis, ZNE codes, financial incentives, ZNE recognition, and other tactics. In addition to sharing examples of successful plans and ZNE-ready policies, small working groups will develop their own ideas utilizing training materials. This workshop will be held in conjunction with the Statewide Energy Efficiency Collaborative Forumlgc.org/caseec/seec-forum/.

Who should attend: Local and state government staff including planning, facilities, and building staff, as well as architects, engineers, contractors, consultants, and others interested in ZNE are encouraged to attend. Space is limited, so please register and reserve your spot today. For more information: newbuildings.org/municipal-workshops/.


Meeting location: 
Doubletree by Hilton Fresno Convention Center
2233 Ventura Street
Fresno, CA 93721
(559) 268-1000

The published group rate in the DoubleTree Hotel booking system is $132/night- however, to make this event more affordable to attendees, the forum organizers are buying down the rate to $107/room night (+ taxes and fees). lgc.org/caseec/seec-forum/



4 AIA LU|HSW CEUs are available



ZNE for Existing Buildings

August 23 | 1:00-5:00 pm 
Commerce, CA

This four-hour workshop will outline best practice steps and approaches to comprehensively enhance the energy performance of existing buildings to ZNE. The workshop will investigate retrofit opportunities in individual buildings as well as how advanced benchmarking can help prioritize opportunities across a portfolio. We will review technologies, approaches, processes as well as portfolio project prioritization methods. Case studies of building strategies and technologies will be presented including advanced strategies a design team can take to achieve ZNE on an existing building. The training will address operation and maintenance considerations, including energy monitoring for ongoing building performance. This event will be held in partnership with the Net Zero 2017 Energy + Water + Waste Conferenceverdicalgroup.com/net-zero-2017/.

Who should attend: Local and state government staff including planning, facilities, and building staff, as well as architects, engineers, contractors, private sector owners, commercial real estate professionals, consultants, and others interested in ZNE are encouraged to attend. Find out more: newbuildings.org/existing-building-workshops/

Meeting location:
Net Zero Plus Electrical Training Institute
6023 S. Garfield Avenue
Commerce, CA 90040
(323) 221-5881 



4 AIA LU|HSW CEUs are available





These events will be facilitated by New Buildings Institute in partnership with the California Public Utilities Commission.


Additional 2017 workshop dates to be announced soon.


Statewide LG EE Best Practices: Weekly Update

wEEkly update

3/17/2017


Funding Wizard | Energy Standards Online Resource Center | Energy Code Ace


8th Annual Statewide Energy Efficiency Forum June 14-15
Mark your calendars for June 14th-15th. The annual SEEC Forum will be in Fresno with two pre-forum workshops on June 13th focusing on Energy Efficiency 101 and Zero Net Energy for Local Governments. Click here to find more information and register for the forum.

News and Opportunities

Wet Winter Leads to Potential CAISO Spring Curtailment
The California ISO expects to curtail up to 8,000MW this Spring due to the overabundance of hydro generation.

Apply for a Public Fleet Rebate
The Public Fleet Pilot Project offers up to $15,000 in rebates for the purchase of new, eligible zero-emissions and plug-in hybrid light-duty vehicles by public agencies operating in California's most vulnerable and pollution-burdened areas.

Can California Go 100% Green?
Anne C. Mulkern digs into the details of latest push to use 100% renewable energy in the California grid.

California Vineyard Reaps Savings From Sustainability Efforts
A California vineyard participated in Southern California Edison's Savings by Design program saving money and becoming more energy efficient and sustainable.

What the Wall Street Journal got wrong about PACE
Jim Barrett Chief Economist for The American Council for Energy-Efficient Economy or ACEEE, challenges the Wall Street Journal on their opinion of PACE programs.

Cannabis Growers Now Eligible for Agriculture Electricity Rate
Once they have a permit from their local jurisdiction and if 70 percent or more of their annual energy usage is ag related cannabis growers can receive a reduced agriculture electricity rate from PG&E.

Publications and Resources

Smart Buildings: Using Smart Technology to Save Energy in Existing Buildings
A report from ACEEE reviews the smart technologies for commercial buildings and estimates how much energy they can save.

The Integrated Energy Network
The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) is developing action plans to support the future of an an integrated energy network focusing on efficiency, sustainability, connectivity, and customer choice and control.

Jobs and Investment Fact Sheet
At least 2.2 million people work in energy efficiency in the US according to the ACEEE Jobs and Investment Fact Sheet.

Career Opportunities

Management Analyst - City of Palmdale
The City of Palmdale is seeking a Management Analyst that will support environmental and energy efficiency projects. The final date to apply is Thursday, March 30th.

Energy Technician - Redwood Coast Energy Authority
Redwood Coast Energy Authority has an immediate full time benefited position for an Energy Technician. The selected Energy Technician will support Redwood Coast Energy Authority’s Energy Watch partnership’s Regional Direct Install program

Project Coordinator: Energize Fresno
The Local Government Commission has an immediate full-time position for a Project Coordinator to support the the Energy and Climate Change sector. In particular, they are looking for someone to support the Energize Fresno  projects.
 


SEEC Calendar 
Click the SEEC Calendar link to view all upcoming events.

3/23 Peer Exchange Call: Affecting Behavior Change: Energy Report Data Use
Peer Exchange call to discuss best practices for using data from home energy reports to encourage homeowners to change their behaviors and save more energy.

3/30 Webinar: Risks and Rewards in the ZNE Marketplace
Explore and understand the developer and owner perspectives on investor value of zero and take a close look at income, cost, and risk.

4/20 Municipal Green Building Conference and Expo (Downey)
The U.S Green Building Council Los Angeles Chapter (USGBC-LA) Municipal Green Building Conference and Expo (MGBCE) is the longest running annual green building event in Southern California.

4/26-4/27 Green California Summit (Sacramento)
The Summit provides a forum where innovations in policy, technology and practice can be showcased and shared.
 


That's all for this week. Have a great weekend!
CivicSpark is now recruiting Project Partners for 2017-18
Over the past 3 years, CivicSpark, LGC's Governor's Initiative AmeriCorps program has provided 130,000+ hrs of climate and water capacity-building support to over 100 public agencies. If you are a local government, State agency, or an NGO with a climate or water action project need, visit our website to learn more and apply to receive project support!


Have A Great Idea for Transportation in Fresno?


If you have a innovative idea for transportation for the City of Fresno check out Just Transit. They are having information meetings for more information in the coming weeks.


We're very excited to tell you about Just Transit, a community challenge that will award up to $400,000 to innovative solutions that will make Fresno cleaner and more connected. Whether you're an engineer, entrepreneur, or enthusiast, Just Transit is open to anyone with a great idea and who just needs a little help getting it off 
.ground

Now more than ever, our cities need solutions for affordable, accessible, and greener ways of transit that meet commuters' ever-evolving needs. That’s why for the second year in a row, The 11th Hour Project has teamed up with key stakeholders in California to launch Just Transit. Our goal is simple: reduce transportation emissions while making it easier for everyone to get where they need to go. This year’s focus is on Fresno, a city that continues to expand and requires new modes of transit to ensure neither its rural nor urban residents are left behind.
If you're interested in learning more about Just Transit or would like to join a discussion on Fresno's transportation landscape, the community's transit needs, and current solutions that aren't quite working, we invite you to attend one of two open houses next week. You can RSVP for the November 3 open house here or for the November 4 open house here.

Thank you 
The Just Transit Team
Smarter transportation needs smart minds

Application opens Thursday, October 27. You can read more about Just Transit and learn about eligibility and criteria by visiting www.justtransit.org.
Got questions? Feel free to contact us at info@justtransit.org.




A Public Market in Downtown Fresno

Hurrah!!! Hurrah!!!
A Public Market in Fresno…

Imagine a public market in downtown Fresno. A place where your senses come alive, where local foods such as the aroma of fresh ground coffee mingles with Jamaican jerk chicken and spicy greens sizzling in a pot. The scent of artisan baked hot bread fresh from the oven interlaced with sweet potato pie cooling on the counter. The sounds of blues or jazz heard in the distance from a street musician in the public area. Visiting Fresno’s public market would be a feast for all senses, a place to experience familiar taste from the homeland of your ancestors, a place to experiment with new flavors that animate your taste buds with the tang of new and exciting palates.

I close my eyes and envision a fiesta of color, scents and exciting products. I can’t help but to have a smile on my face when I think of this. Well, my wishing may be over soon. On Wednesday January 9th, from 10 – 12 noon, (CA Raisin Marketing Board Room, 2445 Capitol St. in Civic Center Sq) public market expert Ted Spitzer will be in town to talk with the City about public markets and the steps to create one. This visit could be the first step in preparing a feasibility study that will enable the financing and development of the Fresno Public Market. (City of Fresno, Elliott Balch)

I have been dreaming about this for years now and it is finally in the planning stage. I for one am very excited about the possibility of having a centralize location to get all my produce, specialty cheese and meats, and to find those hard to find ethnic items that I love so much.

If we add up the GHG saving from a lesser number of trips to the various farmers markets and supermarkets around town, otherwise known as vehicle miles traveled, there is a considerable advantage. With the cost savings in fuel and energy savings from a centralized location, I for one vote a earsplitting YES!

Aside from my personal excitement, there are many benefits from a public market in Fresno. Those benefits include building local economies, job creation, social mixes, arts and cultures, health and nutrition and last but not least environmental protection. For this blog I will focus on the environmental protection aspect of public markets especially one located in Fresno’s downtown area. We have to consider the fact that a public market will use existing infrastructure, historic preservation and encourages recycling. It would also lend to health and nutrition for our local community as the access to quality fresh, local healthful foods along with organic foods would be available 7-days a week at a set location without having to wonder, “Oh, its Tuesday…where is there a farmers market today?” I’m excited thinking that Fresno could have a place that would house small farmer sales, preserve green space, while allowing the public to meet the producer.

Fresno is such a diverse, vital and culturally rich community; ripe to embrace diverse foods and culture ready to reflect its community’s character and heritage while meeting its everyday shopping needs – especially for fresh foods. Public market shoppers are not only there for the fresh foods, they go for the experience. Shoppers go to public markets for fundamentally social reasons – to meet a friend, to people watch, to enjoy the street musicians, to mix with people who are different from themselves.  They go to immerse themselves in a vibrant, pulsing, colorful place that is exciting and fun. They go to public markets for free flu shots or the ethnic festival or to show their kids where food really comes from. It also gives Fresno a venue for public awareness campaigns such as energy conservation. Shameless plug…

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/antrover/7868344888/

Wellness Wednesday: Home Energy Tune Up


As a first-time homeowner of an older home I couldn't pass up the opportunity for an energy audit courtesy of the City of Fresno’s Home Energy Tune Up program. My parents and the majority of my coworkers, including Courtney, participated in the program and absolutely loved it! Essentially it is like a wellness visit to the doctor but for your house - a little poking and prodding to make sure all is as it should be – and that is why this post deserves a spot on Wellness Wednesday. Besides, there’s nothing better than a free educational opportunity that can potentially put money back in your pocket.

The Home Energy Tune Up program once tested the duct work within a home, but due to low program funds that has been eliminated from the inspection. (Readers, please note that a little birdie told me additional funding will be pumped into the program in the new year so you may want to wait to sign up for your audit until after January.) I was looking forward to that part, but the gentlemen ensured me for the age of the house and from the initial readings that the duct work was likely in tip top shape – phew! They did inspect our appliances, including the rooftop HVAC unit; took a peek in the attic and below the house; checked out the PG&E meter; performed a blower door test; and took thermography images using an infrared camera. The blower test and thermography both serve to figure out where there is heat loss and air leakage. We should receive the thorough results within 2-3 weeks.

My home is on the smaller side so I could sit with our kitties in their carriers* and watch as the men went to work. I spent a long time chatting with them (the workers not the cats) about where one begins when wanting to do energy efficiency projects on an older home like ours. Even though I already know most of the information it was good reinforcement to keep me on track instead of jumping on the bandwagon of purchasing the latest and greatest EE gadgets (repeat: must resist Nest for time being). Low and no cost solutions, such as weatherization and turning off/unplugging appliances when not in use, are the first steps in becoming more energy efficient. If you are a visual person, check out this video from Southern California Edison’s Carl and Eddy. Once these steps have been conquered you can move on to insulation, windows, appliances, and maybe even solar.

Unfortunately, these more expensive EE options are not always financially feasible at the moment you may need/want to buy. Case in point: our home did not come with a washer or dryer and while my mom’s folding skills are pretty incredible, I didn't think it was fair or fun to haul our dirty clothes to my parents’ house every weekend. It was totally against my original plan, but we bit the bullet and made our first (non energy efficient) appliance purchase. While I would have loved to purchase an Energy Star model, it was absolutely out of our budget! Yes, it would have been an investment and I would have reaped the rewards later; however, I could barely afford the pretty stands for the units let alone the actual washer and dryer! We opted for a pair that was rated high by customers and my wallet. The good news is we can still be energy efficient when doing our laundry by following a few simple tips from the EPA: utilize the cold setting on the washing machine; only wash and dry full loads (and not too full loads), remember to clean the lint trap after every load; and opt for air drying when possible.

Moral of the story?
‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.’ – John Lennon
Get to know the in’s and out’s of your home; educate and arm yourself with energy efficiency knowledge; and do what you can, when you can. Having a plan is great, but I am learning that having patience and flexibility is key!

Kitten Translation: this is BS.  
*If you have pets and can take them outside or elsewhere during your audit I would highly recommend it for your own sanity! Although Fig and Olive did okay for the most part and enjoyed the company of the two men, the blower test sent them over the edge – maybe due to noise or pressure changes. They are young and spry so the 45 minute disruption in their day wasn't too stressful in the end and they resumed their roles as Prince and Princess of the kingdom.



photo credit: Green Energy Futures via photopin cc

Wellness Wednesday: Indoor Air Quality and Energy Efficiency


It’s official: escrow closed and the fiancé, two kitties, and I are now in our new house. Phew! There was a gap of about a week and a half from when we vacated our apartment and moved into the house. (Note to readers: when you tell your apartment complex you plan to be out on a certain day they will take you seriously! Shout out to the U-haul of Mid City in Fresno for having a truck available last minute.) My über generous parents took all four of us in and we took the opportunity to make a few repairs and clean every nook and cranny before settling in.

Low-VOC Paint: So long stench!

The 1949 home had been vacant for a few years because the previous owners (the one and only owners before us) had passed away and left their five children in charge. The place is in pretty good condition for its age and while it was empty for a few years, it was kept up nicely; however, one thing I couldn't get past was the smell of ‘old’ – that would be the technical term. Throwing out the frilly curtains definitely helped but I knew fresh paint would make the place feel clean and personalized to fit our style. We used Valspar Signature interior paint and primer which is one of the options on the market for a low odor, low-VOC paint. I was absolutely adamant that our paint choice be low or no VOC – like I have said before, control the controllables! Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are released from solids or liquids, such as paint, and can result in both short-term and long-term adverse health effects including dizziness, fatigue, headache, nausea, damage to internal organs and the central nervous system, and possibly even cancer. These toxins are often a more significant factor in indoor air pollution than outdoor air pollution! It is a frightening thought that the comfort of our own homes may not be any better than the hazy Central Valley skyline.

Other products that contain VOCs include paint thinners, cleaning supplies, permanent markers,  and glues and adhesives, to name a few. While you might not always be able to completely avoid these and other products, I try to search for the low and no VOC varieties and more natural alternatives. Side note: I recently have started to make my own natural cleaning supplies (like these here) with basic pantry supplies to save money and to save the health of myself, my family (including pets), and our environment. This also allows me to reuse containers to help save energy that would have been used in the production of the plastic.

A word of caution when painting no matter what level VOC: ventilate, ventilate, ventilate! Even the greener and more natural products can be hazardous to your health if you trap yourself indoors with them. Lucky for us our home needs some serious weatherization so while we froze painting at all hours of the night, the large one and two inch gaps around our doors (check out the one in the pic on the right) kept the stench at bay and allowed for decent airflow. Who would have thought a serious flaw would be so beneficial?

Home Energy Tune Up
In all seriousness and now that most of the painting is complete we will definitely be taking care of those gaps to ensure an energy efficient home. While I enjoy being very hands-on with my home improvement projects it is important to have qualified professionals assess and work on your home because, as I read in a 2011 online article, ‘Energy-Tight is Chemical-Tight’. It’s important not to go overboard with the way you caulk and seal up your home because you could be doing more harm than good. In order to avoid testing each bowl of porridge I decided to go straight for the professional opinion so I could get it just right.

I recently signed up for the FREE Home Energy Tune Up program offered through the City of Fresno. FREE: music to my ears! The program offers Fresno and Madera county residents a professional, whole house energy audit to help identify where homeowners can make improvements and save on their energy bills. The audit includes a detailed report, low and no cost solutions for saving energy and helps point a homeowner in the right direction if and when he or she chooses to make improvements to their home. Did I mention this is FREE? My parents not too long along had this done on their home and discovered they had duct work that was completely detached! No wonder they had such sky high utility bills! Our very own CourtneyKalashian went through the program as well and I too look forward to sharing my own experience.

Here’s to a happy, healthy, energy-efficient home!

--Maureen 

photo credit: melissajonas via photopin cc

photo credit: Maureen Hoff

photo credit: http://www.fresno.gov/Government/DepartmentDirectory/DARM/HomeTuneUp/Default.htm

City of Fresno Buttons Me Up


*Editors Note: this post ran on a personal blog in October 2011.  The Home Energy Tune Up program is in a ramp down period for the remainder of 2012 but will return in full-force in 2013 through funding from Pacific Gas & Electric Company, the California Public Utilities Commission and California Rate Payers.  To track the status of this program you can check in here on our blog and at the City of Fresno website.  Now, on to the home-shaming. 

I carry an albatross of inefficiency.

My home was built in 1977 and for 33 years sat untouched by the hands of my husband's grandmother. To her credit, she did install shutters on the eastern facing windows, but I'm fairly certain that was more aesthetic than for cooling purposes.

Looking pretty and leaking $
Upon moving in our first priority was making the house livable--and for us that meant replacing every square of plaid linoleum and fiber of "goldenrod" carpet and drapery. We wanted our home to look pretty, and paid little attention to running pretty. The very little credit we deserve is that we installed ceiling fans in every room and replaced all our lighting with cfl bulbs, inside and out. That was it.

Now, as one who is compensated for evangelizing energy efficiency you would expect that my own home's efficiency was a top priority. Especially given that our monthly electric and gas bill exceeded our mortgage costs six months out of the year. It wasn't until this spring that we even started thinking about "buttoning up the house"

California, despite the boondoggle of a PACE program, has introduced some rather enticing mechanisms to incentivize homeowners to make efficiency upgrades to their home. After sitting through no less than 17 presentations on Energy Upgrade California/Residential Retrofit/Weatherization I decided that our home was ready for a makeover!

My husband immediately wanted solar. However, I knew we would be paying an arm and a leg for an over-sized solar array if we didn't get the house tuned up first. And, like we say to every city manager and public works director up and down the Valley--solar isn't worth a penny until you address your inefficiency first.

Now, here is where I profess I have a work-crush on Steven Chu. Yup, that's right Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. Mostly because he isn't afraid to speak out about gas prices, touts efficiency as a saving grace, and because he can tie-in energy storage with the latest Harry Potter release. I also really respect his personal efforts to make his home a pinnacle of energy savings. Secretary Chu has insulated, sealed and gone tankless; resulting in big time savings. So, I figured if the Secretary of Energy of the United States can take the time to insulate his pipes, the least I can do is pay someone to do it for me!

And so it began. I made my own list of "to-do's":
  1. insulate the attic and lee walls 
  2. duct inspection and sealing 
  3. AC tune-up 
  4. Insulate hot water heater  Replace hot water heater with tankless hot water heater
  5. solar shade on transom windows
In a chicken/egg scenario I can't say whether I made my list because I wanted to be more efficient or because the City of Fresno was launching a "Home Energy Tune-Up" program, free to homeowners (disclaimer: my Organization is was a sub-sub-contractor to the City on this project.  We assist in outreach to local governments.).  Likely, a little of both.  

Regardless of professional involvement, the steps of the program are so incredibly simple! 
  1. Schedule a free home energy survey by calling (855) 621-3733 or filling out an online form
  2. Be home during a 3-4 hour walk-thru survey to determine where energy is wasted
  3. Receive a detailed report from your  inspector with no-cost and low-cost ideas to improvement
There is even assistance for accessing rebates and incentives, as well as financing option for advanced upgrades.  

Our survey was completed on a Friday morning by Nathaniel Zayas of AmeriSpec, and took a little longer than four hours, but mostly because I asked him a zillion questions at every step, and because he was being assisted by this guy:
Dutch, our St. Bernard and Assistant Inspector
To my great surprise, our house wasn't in as bad shape as I thought it was.  The average home inspected has a 20% duct leakage.  After the blower test, it turned out that ours were leaking less than 10%. Our AC, as it turns out, is functioning better than expected given that it is original to the home.  We're pretty diligent about having it checked, but who's to say what Grandma did all those years so that was indeed a nice surprise.  The unit is way too big, but in all honesty that's something that I'm willing to pay extra because come July and that 20 day streak above 100 degrees I'll be glad for the chill.  

The real offenders are the furnace, the hot water heater, and the windows. 

Because we're not opting into the Energy Upgrade California program (although EUCA is awesome and if you're considering major efficiency improvements I strongly recommend you look into it) we'll be paying for each improvement upfront, in full.   With those financial realities I set up something SJVCEO recommended to local governments as gospel--a revolving energy loan fund.  Here's how it works: 
  • you have an upfront amount of money that you decide you're willing to spend on upgrades.  In our case that was $1,000.  
  • Next, you determine your project, and what your rebate is and what you can expect for a payback on the investment.  For us, we wanted to do insulation first.  One, the whole house and lee walls could be insulted within our budget.  Two, we had Z-E-R-O insulation in our home and it gets cold...and hot.  PG&E was offering a $300 rebate on the work, so in the end our cost was $900.  Pre-insulation our combined electric and gas bill on an average month was $400.  The insulation saves approximately 10% each month, so the payback would be about 18 months.  We liked that. 
  • Once you know your project, do it.  In our case we went with Masterguard Insulation and Windows and they were fantastic.  Quick, clean, and considerate.  I'm not sure Dutch got to help out, but he seems pretty happy with the end product.  In the months of post-insulation bills the project is actually saving an average of 18% per month!  That means the project paid itself off in five and a half months!  
  • Finally, take your rebate and the money you've saved on utility bills and reinvest in your next project! Ours is probably going to be a tankless hot water heater.  I expect it will be another $1,000 project with the product and installation 
  • Repeat as necessary until you've got your home buttoned up and running smooth! 
Have I loosened that albatross? Not quite; I still have a ways to go before I can feel like our home is pinnacle of efficiency, but at least I no longer feel like there's a dirty secret I'm hiding!  The truth is, energy upgrading your home is no different than any other DIY/home improvement project: it just takes time and commitment to making a better quality of living for you and your family...our your Saint Bernard. 

photo credits: all photos property of Courtney Kalashian

What is Localism? Can it really work in Fresno?

lo·cal·ism [loh-kuh-liz-uhm] : a philosophy that puts a priority on local economics.

Simply put, it is the idea of buying local, local control of government and the promotion of local history, culture and identity.  I ask why have we not embraced the idea years ago? With the eclectic population we host in the area there is an endless supply of culture and diversity that the mainstream public doesn't even know about or have the opportunity to enjoy. Now, throw in the reduced carbon footprint and cost savings that localism promotes and Fresno has the ideal mix for a successful localism movement!  

We can promote this idea more.  We must promote this idea more. 
I do realize Fresno has a “buy local” campaign, (I don’t live in a cave all the time) but we as a public need to start thinking differently. It is time to change the status quo and start acting (not just thinking) outside the box. We need a more walk-able  livable and climate friendly community to leave as a legacy for our children and grandchildren.
In theory, localism sounds great and it’s something Craig Scharton, from the City of Fresno, has been preaching from the day I met him on a brisk morning back in 2009. Craig gave me my first tour of the Fulton Mall and invited me into a discussion about where the downtown area should be heading.  I for one am very excited that the City of Fresno gets it! Fresno seems to understand where to start researching our past mistakes and how far back to look in an effort to make right the mistakes of our predecessors in planning to best move downtown revitalization forward.
I have often wondered why, when we live in one of the most productive areas in the country, we don’t have a co-op of growers, craftsmen, winemakers, artist, bakeries and such; much like Seattle’s’ PIKES PLACE market. California’s agricultural abundance includes more than 400 commodities, the state produces nearly half of the U.S. – grown fruits, nuts and vegetables and Fresno County is the nations’ leading agricultural county with nearly 5 billion a year in farm product sales.

When I began looking at this issue it sounded wonderful, almost silver bullet wonderful. Oh, what I would give to have a resource like this in the downtown area. It just seems to logical not to already be in place. Fresno has the agriculture, artisans, craftsman, restaurants, bakers and winemakers; Fresno has the space on the Fulton Mall; The City of Fresno is looking for more anchors for the downtown area.  Will somebody just do this, (not so small project) and give our community a venue to show off all Fresno County has to be proud of? 
“Changing a local economic system starts by changing its most basic industries: agriculture, energy, manufacturing, retail, building and transportation and capital. When these sectors are transformed into localized, sustainable, green- and community-focused industries, the entire economy is transformed.” 

photo credit: prayitno via photopin cc

The greening of America push-button style


Three items caught my attention in the last few days. The first was this story out of the Inland Empire that noted more home builders are touting green features such as energy efficiency, although traditional factors such as location and lot size still influence buyers more.

The second was this blog by K. Kaufmann of my old employer, The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, who correctly opined that creating nifty green technology is one thing, but persuading people to change their behavior enough to use it is entirely different. Hence the Green Button campaign, designed to forge a more personal connection with power bills.

The third was this GreenBiz.com post about businesses having trouble keeping up with the demand for green products.

It is apparent that a green tint is spreading, albeit unevenly. Businesses, universities, governments and more individuals are heeding the message of clean energy and efficiency. This blog links to statistics confirming the increasing awareness that stems from a desire to either save money or to do the right thing environmentally.

But the transformation won't occur overnight. The benefits of new lights, air conditioners and weatherization are tough to sell, especially when there is an upfront cost.

I calculated a 9% return on an investment of $1,700 in energy-related upgrades at my 1,500-square-foot house near Fresno, but I've been putting off the work: A $1,700 expenditure is hard to justify with a kid in college, even with a payback of only a few years. Tuition payments sure aren't going down.

Energy efficiency is like an economic stimulus. Our nonprofit is wrapping up a grant project involving about three dozen local governments from Stanislaus to Kern counties in Central California. The cities and counties, using federal stimulus money, replaced energy-guzzling lights, pump motors, air conditioner components and other equipment, saving thousands of dollars and reducing their carbon footprints.

Most of those governments have shredded budgets and deep cuts in staffing, so saving money through energy efficiency is a boost. In some cases, it likely prevented additional layoffs.

 In another measure, Fresno city officials crunched utility data to calculate that a successful comprehensive energy conservation and retrofit program equates to an economic boost of $260 million.  Talk about stimulus! More on that here.

Energy conservation is the easiest and perhaps most cost-effective way to save money, improve the economy and start down the green path. That's why it is commonly referred to as the "low-hanging fruit" of the green-energy movement. Maybe that description isn't accurate: As the head of the federal Department of Energy says here, "It is fruit on the ground."

The best way to use California's carbon windfall


New studies show that using revenue from California's landmark carbon-trading system for energy efficiency and residential renewable energy programs would yield the biggest bang for the buck, and have the strongest chance of surviving a legal challenge.

Nonprofit group Next 10 commissioned studies to determine the best use of proceeds from the cap-and-trade program effective 2013. Most of the models end up generating new revenue for the state through economic growth and new jobs, with programs that improve residential lighting and make other energy-slashing upgrades generating the most. Here is a link to the report that sums up the findings.

University of California, Berkeley, and Resources for the Future examined ways state officials could spend money - the group used the sum of $100 million although the real figure could be higher - raised by the sale of emissions allowances to non-utililty entitites.
The teams modeled scenarios ranging from giving the money to taxpayers in the form of rebates to creating green lending programs to using it on portions of the high-speed rail project. A rebate program would be the most risky legally because it doesn't directly support the greenhouse gas reduction goals of AB 32, the researchers determined.

Energy-efficiency projects, however, could create many more jobs and pump more money into state coffers, depending upon the program. The strongest potential and least legal risk appear to be with programs that fund energy upgrades in lower to middle-income households.

Funding components of high speed rail with carbon-trading revenue would create fewer jobs and less money for the state. It also would be more risky legally, the analysts discovered.

"The most pro-growth options would invest auction proceeds in expanding energy efficiency and renewable technology at the household level," said the study's author, University of California professor David Roland-Holst.

This San Francisco Chronicle story and  this Sacramento Business Journal piece go into more detail about cap and trade, including other possible impacts - and offsets  - on consumers.

The carbon auction is new, so predicting the outcome of legal challenges is itself a challenge. The authors concluded, however, that the cap-and-trade program was not intended to raise revenue, and thus is not a tax. "If the program is challenged in court, we consider spending scenairos that support the primary goal of AB 32 - to cut or mitigate greenhouse gas emissions - to be relatively 'low risk' from a legal standpoint," said co-author and law professor Daniel Farber of UC Berkeley.

The conclusions of the research don't surprise us. Our nonprofit focuses much of its work on energy-efficiency programs that cut power bills. It is almost shocking the amount of money seemingly simple adjustments can make. The city of Fresno, where I live, crunched utility data and discovered that a widespread energy-saving program could pump $260 million into the local economy. Talk about an economic stimulus!

That is why energy efficiency is called the "low hanging fruit" of the clean energy movement.

Fresno Earth Day activities on Saturday





The 2012 version of Fresno Earth Day is Saturday, April 14, on the campus of Unitarian Universalist Church, 2672 E. Alluvial Ave., which is between Chestnut and Willow avenues.

Almost 1,000 people attended last year's event, and members of the Fresno Earth Day Coalition hope for three times that number this year, said Pete Moe, who is heading up a display of clean vehicles.

Visitors will be able to see the latest electric vehicles, along with hybrids and cars that run off biodiesel. "I'm excited about the choices available in the all-electric world," Moe said. "I started my alternative-transportation journey seven years ago when I decided I wanted to buy an electric car and there were none. Now, we have a selection, with American manufacturers finally attempting to field some all-electrics."

The first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, is credited with helping launch the modern environmental movement. Passage of the landmark Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and many other groundbreaking environmental laws soon followed. Here's more on Earth Day.

Today, more than 1 billion people in 192 countries participate in Earth Day activities each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world. This year's event in Fresno will feature exhibits, music and workshops on a variety of topics, including paper making, raw food, California high speed rail, biofuel, composting, organic gardening and Tai Chi, a form of exercise. Sponsors, vendors and exhibitors are still being accepted.

More information is available on the web site here. By the way, here is the lineup of alternative vehicles:
(a)Plug in Prius;
(b) solar power trailer to charge electric vehicles;
(c)2011 Nissan Leaf ;
(d)Veggy oil conversion VW Passat TDI;
(e) used Prius modified to Plug-in Prius;
(f), Tesla Roadster all electric;
(g) Vectrix all electric motorcycle;
(h)Electric assist bicycle;
(i)Chevy Volt;
(j)Mercedes Benz E320 CDI biodiesel car;
(k)VW Beetle biodiesel car;
(L)Biodiesel Processor display;
(m)Ford Transit Compressed Natural Gas delivery wagon;
(n) Zap! Xebra electric four door; 2012 Mitsubishi I Miev all electric.

Photo of 2011 Fresno Earth Day celebration by Howard Watkins

Making use of wasted space with solar and clean energy




Sometimes, what seems to be wasted space isn't.

Take road medians, rights-of-ways, military bases and airports for example. More studies are showing those regions, which are often off limits or seemingly unusable, could be sites for placing solar arrays, wind turbines or crops for biofuel.

This NPR story talks about the huge potential for solar arrays on the vast expanses of military bases. This suggests lining roadways with solar panels, and this USDA report, released in January, says locating alternative power at airports could be an ideal compromise to habitat and land conflicts that plague renewable energy projects.

From the report: "with careful planning, locating alternative energy projects at airports could help mitigate many of the challenges currently facing policy makers, developers, and conservationists. "

It makes sense. Wildlife isn't wanted at airports, and development of property in the flight path is discouraged. Officials at my hometown airport in Fresno, Calif., were way ahead of the game when they had solar panels installed in 2008.

The panels, placed on land near runways that was previous unusable, are shaving millions off the power bill. The USDA report showcases the Fresno installation and notes it supplies about 60% of the airport's power. Any surplus energy is resold.

Read more here. Meadows Field in Bakersfield and Denver International Airport also have solar arrays.

The USDA study says airports are "one of the few land holdings where reductions
in wildlife abundance and habitat quality are necessary and socially acceptable, and where regulations discourage traditional (crop) production." (Did you know economic losses from wildlife/aircraft collisions are estimated at $600 million annually in the United States?)

Authors of the USDA report, while citing the solar airport examples, note they are not aware of any biofuel production at airports. That could be because officials are afraid the crops would attract wildlife. However, several airports already lease land to farmers who grow such crops as corn. And opportunity exists, at least in terms of land size. The study found that only 10% of the 50 U.S. states had median farm sizes larger airport grasslands.

The authors also note that turf near runways sometimes attract geese and other birds. The report suggests that converting that land to switchgrass or other types of cellulosic feedstock could be an option. "Field research likely could identify productive biofuel crops that, from a wildlife perspective, are compatible with safe airport operations," the authors state, citing other studies.

For more, here is a CleanTechnica post that serves as a good overview.

We're starting to see much more in this area. Solar, for example, is showing up on farms, on roadway pilot projects, on parking garages, city wastewater treatment plants, and on county jails and state prisons. The military is going full speed ahead on renewables, while corporate America, professional sports (hello, baseball season) and others are moving ahead on sustainability programs.

Watch for solar and other types of renewable energy to show up in even more places. Wouldn't it be great if this nation took a space race approach, as my colleague put it so well in this blog, to clean energy and energy efficiency?

Fresno airport solar savings graphic provide by City of Fresno

Six Ways The 99 Percent Can Get More Energy Bang For The Buck



As legislators squabble over whether to extend a payroll tax cut that affects millions of middle income households, nary a word is uttered over another way to financially benefit those same families.

Slashing energy bills.

President Obama's $4 billion retrofit plan helps, but more is needed. Families that earn $32,500 to $72,500 per year account for about one-third of total energy use in the United States, but rallying those households to take steps to cut that consumption - and thus their bills - is tough. It is difficult, in part, because those improvements have to be paid for, and families have other financial priorities.

"It's really difficult to motivate them to invest in improving the efficiency of their homes, and to overcome the up-front cost barrier once they are motivated," said Mark Zimring, a researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which has identified ways to deliver savings on those same utility bills.

Buildings make up 70 percent of all energy use and 40 percent of all carbon emissions, so reducing power consumption eases demand on the power grid and benefits the environment, as well as the pocketbook. In fact, the savings may be greater than some estimates. Some ambitious retrofits are achieving energy savings of up to 80 percent. What a cost reduction that would achieve! Read more here.

An energy audit of my 1,400 square-foot house near Fresno, CA., led to a low estimate of $1,700 (after rebates) worth of retrofits that would shave $50 per month off my bill. The Berkeley researchers note that $5,000 is a more common starting point in more comprehensive home-energy upgrades, and that is too much for many people to rationalize in this economy.

"...Higher income households are simply better positioned financially to take advantage of these programs," researcher Merrian Borgeson said. "Persuading middle-income households to undertake these whole-home improvements has proven challenging, and with declines in median income and home equity - coupled with rising energy costs - that challenge has become more acute."

So, what to do? The folks at the Berkeley lab have some ideas for utilities, governments and other agencies that promote efficiency:




  • Solve a problem that households recognize. Messaging matters, so frame energy efficiency as an investment in the home, as an opportunity to replace aging equipment or to address safety issues;



  • Offer options, from low-cost ones that seal leaks, add insulation and repairs ducts to more expensive replacement of air conditioners, furnaces and others;




  • Middle-income families need programs that pay for themselves. Consider tiered packages and financial incentives based on income;




  • Offer innovative financing methods, such as loan repayments tied to utility bills, property tax and paychecks;




  • Leverage other public programs and funding, such as neighborhood revitalization, housing rehab and others;




  • Governments can adopt energy labeling, and make energy efficiency more visible and valuable in the home real estate market.

    Energy efficiency has been called the "low-hanging fruit" of the clean-energy movement because a relatively minimal investment can reap huge rewards. Paybacks are often quick - often only a few years - and the savings don't stop when costs are recouped. I estimated that my savings would equate to an investment that yields a 9 percent return, while a scientist cited in this blog post reduced his monthly power bill from $400 to $50.

    The city of Fresno crunched utility data and determined that a 30 percent across-the-board reduction in energy use would pump $260 million into the local economy. (More in this blog post.)

    That's just one city. Imagine the financial boost if that was nationwide.

    Photo by Jaycy Castaneda
  • Partnership's Efforts Help Cut Energy Use In Valley




    The San Joaquin Valley isn't the hottest place in California, but it's close. The I-think-I'm-going-to-spontaneously combust summer temperatures often reach triple digits. As a result, the region's power bills and energy consumption are often among the highest in the state.

    But, an interesting thing has happened since the nonprofit San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization, which developed out of the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley, was formed in 2007. Electricity use in the Valley dropped 11 percent between 2007 and 2009, which contrasted with a 4.5 percent dip statewide, according to the Partnership's 2010-11 report.

    Energy efficiency is a big part of SJVCEO's mission. It partners with local governments and utilities to help implement programs designed to slash energy consumption, thus saving residents and local government money in this era of austerity and tight budgets. The programs also lead to smaller carbon footprints at a time when environmental issues are rising to the fore.

    The SJVCEO's Valley Innovative Energy Watch (VIEW) partnership with Southern California Edison, Southern California Gas Company and eight local governments in the South Valley has led to substantial energy savings in those communities. The projected savings from this partnership is expected to exceed 4 million kWh.

    The organization also is helping implement the Clean Energy Partnership, an ambitious program that also includes the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, two Investor Owned Utilities, and 36 local governments. The goal is to replace inefficient equipment in publicly-owned buildings from Stanislaus to Kern counties.

    In addition, SJVCEO promotes and conducts outreach for the City of Fresno's Home Energy Tune-Up program, which is available to residents of Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Kern counties. The initiative is funded by a federal grant in collaboration with the state's Energy Upgrade California Program, and enables property owners to replace lighting, increase insulation or make other improvements that will significantly lower their power bills.

    The cost of the upgrades is usually recouped in a few years through energy savings. The great thing is that those savings continue, which gives those families more money to invest or use for other purposes. It also helps offset any utility rate increases.

    The SJVCEO expects energy usage to continue to decline as the existing programs mature and as more initiatives come on line. The organization will soon begin a grant-funded effort to help cities "benchmark" energy consumption and prepare energy action plans.

    Energy efficiency has been described as the "low-hanging fruit" of the clean-energy movement, so it makes sense for an organization based in one of the state's most energy-intensive areas to start picking it.

    Sometimes The Right Solution Is A Green One




    Replacing lights, beefing up insulation, weatherizing and other energy-efficiency measures can cut power consumption and costs. In fact, the nation's energy chief, Steven Chu, calls efficiency the "low-hanging fruit" of the clean-energy movement.

    Commercial and residential buildings are responsible for 40 percent of the nation's energy consumption, according to this study. Even a Math-challenged Journalism grad like myself can see the potential for significant savings. How significant? Up to $33 billion per year by 2030.

    Closer to home, officials in the city of Fresno crunched utility data and determined that a citywide reduction in energy use of 30 percent would save property owners a whopping $260 million. That windfall would then be spent in the community to help stimulate the economy. Here's more on the Fresno analysis.

    What's in it for you? A free energy audit of my 1,400-square-foot, 18-year-old house in Clovis determined that $1,700 worth of upgrades (after rebates) would shave $50 per month off my electricity bill - which equates to a three-year payback. It's free money after that point. That's not a bad investment.

    My audit was through the Home Energy Tune-Up offered by the city of Fresno in cooperation with Energy Upgrade California - and available in Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Kern counties. A list of recommended contractors who can do the work is provided.

    A similar Energy Upgrade California program is available in the service areas of Pacific Gas & Electric and Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) through GreenerSolutions of Stockton.

    Sometimes it costs money to make money. Energy efficiency is that way, but Hayden Logan, owner of GreenerSolutions, says the investment is well worth it. "You can see how much energy you can save by spending only a little money," he said.

    Many property owners have to finance the energy improvements, but there are ways to do that. One of the most common is the CHF Residential Energy Retrofit Program, for which GreenerSolutions is an approved contractor. The program provides no-and low-interest loans (up to 3%) without requiring a home appraisal or a minimum credit score.

    However, there are income requirements, which can be found here (some examples: $32,820-$87,500 in Fresno County; $39,240-$104,640 in San Joaquin County; and $45,060-$120,160 in Sacramento County.)

    GreenerSolutions also offers financing through its own in-house program, or through energy-efficient mortgages (which are used in conjunction with purchases or refinancing).

    Energy Upgrade California and similar programs offer an opportunity for property owners to get more green in their pocketbooks while living a greener lifestyle.

    Photo of Fresno City Hall

    Energy Efficiency: A Financial Investment For Tough Times



    Making money in this era of low interest rates is hard. Good returns are fleeting, and it seems there are few safe harbors.

    But there is one investment that is rock solid. It's not a traditional savings vehicle, however. And it is not so much earning money as saving money. But, really, what's the difference? It all goes straight to the bottom line.

    You won't find a mutual fund of energy-efficiency measures, but if one existed, it likely would be outpacing other investments. Cutting your energy bill - which in my house is the second largest monthly expense behind my mortgage - can reap substantial rewards.

    Heck, just shutting off one computer when it wasn't being used and replacing a desktop with a laptop saved this scientist $100 per month. That equates to a $1,200 annual windfall, and the knowledge he gained will save him thousands of dollars over the life of 30-year mortgage. He recouped the price of the laptop in a relatively short period - and, because those savings continue, got a gift that keeps on giving.

    Over three years, the scientist, David H. Bailey, also installed a new pump on the pool, switched out lights and replaced energy-guzzling appliances. His monthly bill shrank from $400 per month to $50.

    That's a reduction of 87.5%. Unbelievable!

    A recent energy audit of my 1,400-square-foot, 18-year-old house near Clovis High School uncovered some leaks, and recommended $1,700 (after rebates) of upgrades that would cut my bill about $50 per month. That's a three-year payback, and a savings of $9,000 if we live there 15 years beyond that. Is it worth spending $1,700 to save $9,000 over the long term?

    Let's look at it another way. I would need a 9% yield from a traditional investment to get the same return over 18 years from my one-time contribution of $1,700. I don't know many (legal) investments with those kinds of gains.

    Still, energy efficiency, which the federal government calls the "low-hanging fruit" of the clean -energy movement, doesn't garner the headlines of renewables such as solar and wind. But saving money is something that all political parties could support; a national efficiency campaign could save billions of dollars.

    In Fresno, where I live, city officials crunched utility data and concluded that a communitywide energy reduction of 30% would equate to a $260 million economic boon. Read more here.

    Repeat that nationwide, and you have economic stimulus anyone can support.

    Photo of power station.

    Energy Efficiency Could Be The Next Big Thing



    Maybe it's time to think big.

    Gov. Jerry Brown said so in a speech in Las Vegas. Former Treasury secretary Robert Reich noted it in a column for Huffington Post. Maybe, after four years of economic malaise, it is time for a grand gesture.

    Critics, of course, will holler, saying the nation is broke and should cut expenditures. But, there is a way to satisfy both camps. There is a way to make a big economic impact - how does a 30% boost in revenue sound? - in a way that leaves the nation healthier economically, while also creating jobs, eliminating waste and reducing the nation's carbon footprint.

    It is as simple as reducing your energy bill. A large-scale campaign to cut energy costs would create jobs and save businesses and homeowners billions, or even trillions of dollars - which could then be reinvested or otherwise directed into the economy.

    Consider what city officials in Fresno found when they and PG&E crunched newly released data: Businesses and residents could save an astounding $260 million by cutting energy use 30%. And it wouldn't be that hard. Other energy-saving campaigns in Fresno already show savings in the 28% range. Here's more.

    Think of what that means. Cutting 30% from my July power bill would have saved me $168. That's substantial, and it would have gone straight into my wallet - and eventually into the local economy.

    That's just one person. Imagine the economic boost if millions of my close friends joined in. By some estimates, energy costs could be cut $1.2 trillion nationwide through efficiency alone. Jobs would be created through the retrofits and by businesses with more money to invest in technology or personnel.

    And this stimulus wouldn't be a one-time thing; It is all gravy after the initial outlay is recouped. The owner of the iconic Empire State Building spent $13 million on energy upgrades, and saved $4.5 million in energy costs per year.

    He is recouping the initial outlay in only a few years. That's an extreme example of course, but is indicative of the power of energy efficiency. What a great investment!

    Photo of Empire State Building by Mishahu

    Cutting Energy Use Could Pump Millions Into Fresno's Economy






    What would happen if a new business came to city officials, saying their operations would pump $260 million into the local economy? Of course, the red carpet would be dusted off and rolled out. The mayor would call a press conference, and all five television stations would rush to plant their cameras for a good view.

    It would be big news at 5 p.m.

    Unfortunately, energy efficiency is a nebulous concept, and somewhat difficult to grasp. It consists of changing lights. Swapping out new motors for old. Adding insulation. Weatherizing windows. Individually, none is headline-grabbing stuff, and, frankly, is rather boring to many people.

    But energy efficiency, it turns out, could be an economic savior in this time of austerity and budget cuts. For the first time, Fresno city officials, crunching data provided by PG&E, have determined the cost of energy consumption in the community - and what an energy-efficiency campaign could accomplish. The results are astounding.

    That aforementioned $260 million is the amount of money that Fresno property owners would save if they slashed energy usage citywide by 30%. That would be direct savings, and would go straight to your pocket book. "It would be like getting a raise," says Joseph Oldham, Fresno's sustainability manager.

    Oldham says Fresno businesses and households spent $866 million on electricity and gas in 2009. Reducing usage by less than a third would save millions - and could be accomplished relatively simply. "No moon shot required," Oldham said at an energy-efficiency workshop held at Fresno State. "It clearly could be an economic driver for our community."

    I know what it would mean to me. My power bill last month was $561, which is higher than the average of $400 to $500 for an 1,800-square-foot house in Fresno. It was the second-highest monthly expense behind my mortgage. A 30% reduction would shave $168 off that bill. That is a significant savings, and a pretty good boost to the economy if a few thousand of my close friends did the same thing.

    Is 30% a realistic savings goal? Absolutely. Data collected by PG&E in connection with the new Energy Upgrade California program showed an average reduction of 28% - and some individual decreases up to 45% in the Fresno region.

    So, it's definitely possible.

    The downside, and the part that keeps many from getting energy upgrades, is the upfront cost. The price of energy audits, parts and installation could be hundreds or thousands of dollars, depending upon the scope of the project. Utility rebates cut those upfront costs significantly, but financing the remaining costs could still prove problematic for some people.

    In addition, utilities are finding resistance from homeowners who don't want to invest in properties that are declining in value. For those who are interested, financing and other programs are available. A good first step for residents of Fresno and Kern counties is to apply for a free home-energy survey through the Fresno Regional Comprehensive Residential Retrofit Program. Call 855-621-3733 or visit http://www.fresnohometuneup.com/ or http://www.kernhometuneup.com/.

    Oldham is a big fan of a CHF residential retrofit plan that provides fixed-rate 3% loans over 15 years. There is no minimum or maximum loan amounts, but it does have income requirements: $31,200 to $87,500 per household. There also is a 15% upfront grant that reduces the amount to financed. The program is available in Fresno and Kern counties.

    The funds come from the California Energy Commission, and will likely expire after March, Oldham said. Find out more here.

    For a more powerful combination, the CHF program can be teamed with a new Energy Upgrade California plan that provides for an additional rebate of $4,000. "The rebate is cash in your pocket after the work is done," Oldham says. Plan on six to eight weeks to get the rebate.

    Other loan programs are available through the Educational Employees Credit Union and Rabobank. Bank of America also may have a financing program, according to this announcement. Here is a link to a database with more options, and to an article with more thoughts.

    Commercial property owners can participate in energy efficiency through CaliforniaPACE, which finances improvements over 20 years through property taxes. Find out more here.

    Efficiency is catching on in a big way. More schools are doing it as a way to preserve their dwindling budgets. Just turning off the lights is a good start, according to this New York Times piece.

    University of California at Santa Cruz is spending, after rebates, $104,000 to change out lights in its library. The project will pay off in three years, making it a worthy investment. It is the 15th energy-savings project on campus since 2009, and total savings are nearing $500,000 per year.

    Walmart, which started on the path to sustainability in what can best be described as a halting manner, has embraced it. Company execs became believers when they saved more than $1 million simply by shrinking the package on a toy. They discovered, they could stuff more packages in their trucks, thus using fewer trucks and saving fuel., according to a fascinating new book, The Force of Nature: The Unlikely Story of Wal-Mart's Green Revolution" by Edward Humes. Today, the world's largest retailer is studying ways to be more efficient throughout its supply chain.

    Nationally, energy efficiency could be a game changer: A movement could produce $1.2 trillion in saved revenue, and create millions of jobs, according to the The US Green Building Council. Here is more on that.

    Oldham says Fresno residents don't have to accept high power bills. "Improving the cost-effectiveness of energy use makes huge sense," he says. "It could the answer to our economic dilemma."

    Talk about a stimulus program!

    Photo of Fresno City Hall: Flickr.com