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Weatherization Warms Town as Cost-Savings Study Continues

March 12, 1986

HOOD RIVER, Ore. (AP) _ Lois Talbot thought her modest, two-bedroom home was warm enough, but Bonneville Power Administration made her an offer she couldn’t refuse.

″They came in and weatherized the walls,″ said Mrs. Talbot, who estimates her house is nearly equal to her 76 years.

″They put 21 inches of insulation in the attic, and put insulation under the floors,″ she said. ″They caulked the house throughout, and took out all the old windows and put in triple-glazed windows. Then they put in a new thermostat and three air-to-air heat exchangers.″

″The whole thing cost $6,200,″ she said.

And her share? ″Not a penny.″

Mrs. Talbot got a house that is warm in winter and cool in summer, and cut her electricity consumption by nearly half from one winter to the next.

What Bonneville got for its money is a town and surrounding area to use as a guinea pig, weatherizing every electrically heated house in sight - nearly 3,000 in all - to study the effect on electricity usage.

″This study will help answer the question of whether we can weatherize a whole town quickly and get results, if we need quick energy savings,″ said Timber Stevens of the Hood River Conservation Project. He is an employee of Pacific Power & Light Co., which is administrating the project for Bonneville, a federal agency that markets electricity in the Pacific Northwest.

Conservation, he said, is cheaper than building new power plants.

Weatherization of all the homes took about two years; project managers marked the end of that stage of the program in a ceremony Tuesday.

Gil Peach, manager of research and evaluation for Pacific Power & Light, said preliminary results of the project show it is ″obvious that conservation is a viable alternative to building a new power plant.″

Results of the research are expected in mid-1987, although Peach said additional studies undoubtedly will be done later to measure the long-term impact of the weatherization work.

Already, officials said, the $21 million project has attracted attention from utility managers across the United States and in Canada, Britain and Sweden.

John Hughes, researcher with Niagara Mohawk utility in New York state, who visited Hood River, said utilities are interested in conservation as a way of continuing to meet growing electricity demands.

But he said power managers don’t yet know how predictable conservation is, and studies like the one at Hood River are essential. Researchers want to know, for example, whether people start to turn up their thermostats or start using less wood and more electricity for heat after their homes are weatherized, he said.

Weatherizing the average home at Hood River cost $3,800. Improvements were free to most homeowners, and more than 90 percent of the homes that qualified were signed up for the project. Researchers picked Hood River, a town of about 4,500, and the surrounding area because its variety of population groups and types of climate made it a microcosm of the Pacific Northwest.

Researcher Eric Hirst said the participation of more than 90 percent of the residents was ″absolutely remarkable,″ and spoke well of the effort to promote the project.

He said that he expected the project to show substantial energy savings, but that it wouldn’t live up to earlier predictions of 30 percent. That was partly because electricity usage had dropped a couple of years before the project started, as rates started to rise precipitously, he said.

Mrs. Talbot, whose home was the first to be weatherized and who admits to being a ″cheerleader″ for the project, said she used an average of 95 kilowatt-hours of electricity per day in December 1983, before her home was weatherized. The following December, she used 56 kwh a day.

″It’s great for us customers,″ she said of the program. ″At last we believe in Santa Claus.″

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