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Effort under way to slash utility bill costs for thousands of Genesee County homes

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

An army of energy conservation experts are being deployed at homes across Genesee County with one mission in mind – to help homeowners cut their utility bills by potentially hundreds of dollars a year.

The experts are part of Consumers Energy's "Helping Neighbors" program that is targeting income-qualified homes in the county.

As you can see in the video below, the team is armed with tools to cut some costs immediately – and resources for cutting even more energy costs in the long term.

An energy conservation program funded by Consumers Energy is providing free home inspections and energy saving devices for 5,000 income-qualified homeowners in Genesee County. In this video you see how the program works.
Watch video

The "Helping Neighbors" crew deployed by Consumers Energy arrived at the Rankin street home of Nina Fisher in Flint armed with their tools of the trade they call some of the simplest weapons in the war on high energy costs.

Fisher – a single mother of two – has been watching her water and energy bills rise to nearly $500 a month over the five years she's lived in the home.

She turned to Consumers' Winter Protection Program to ease the payment schedule – but had just assumed this was a budget battle she would have to accept for the long term.

"I thought I just had to deal with it because they increased and I had to roll with the flow," said Fisher. "I really have to rob Peter to pay Paul a little bit, pay here, pay there, in the end they all get paid."

That was her plan, until the Helping Neighbors team arrived.

While on site, the crew replaced 10 incandescent light bulbs with florescent bulbs, installed a programmable thermostat, inspected and prepared the furnace for tuneup, insulated the water heater pipes and changed the faucets throughout the home to lower flow aerators to reduce water usage.

The on-site resources are funded completely by Consumers Energy as part of its comprehensive energy efficiency program intended to reduce electric consumption in the state by 5.5 percent by 2015.

While on site, the Helping Neighbors team also identifies bigger-picture weatherization issues - like windows in need of caulking, holes in the foundation and basement or attic walls in need of insulation.

When these weatherization issues are identified, the crew makes referrals of local agencies that can do the work, sometimes with reduced rates or with federal funding.

Consumers says the program is funded to serve 5,000 income-qualified homes in Genesee County this year.

"I think the need is vast, said Guillermo Diaz, specialist with the Okemos-based CLEAResult consultants, which coordinates with Consumers Energy on the project. "I think there is more than 5,000 homes, the goal is to reach out and provide necessary referrals."

"We're trying to get the message out to as many people as we can, let the block clubs know that this is available," said Randy Pierce of Salem Housing of Flint.

Diaz says there is no way to offer an average homeowner savings – each house has individual needs. But he offers this perspective on some simple light bulb changes:

"If you change 256 incandescent light bulbs to florescent, that's enough kilowatts per hour saved to fuel the electric needs of an average home for an entire year," said Diaz.

For Fisher, it is all part of an education that will now have her thinking differently about water and energy costs she always thought one had to accept.

"This is the first time of me knowing anything about the light bulbs, the water faucets, the adapters for the water," Fisher said. "I feel totally different now, because I know there's a way to save on your heat and your water. When the bills starting coming out now, I'll be watching."

To qualify for the free energy assistance program through Consumers Energy households have to meet certain income eligibility guidelines. For a family of four, as an example, the household income would need to be below $46,100 per year to qualify.

Consumers has teamed up with CLEAResult to reach out to low-income families in Genesee County.

CLEAResult has a dedicated hotline for residents who believe they may qualify for the program. That number is 877-448-9433. You can also find information on the program's website www.helpingneighbors.us.

In addition to the Helping Neighbors program, Consumers offers energy-efficient furnace rebates and assistance with pick-up and recycling of older, inefficient appliances. Details are available on the Consumers Energy website, consumersenergy.org.

Flint, Michigan
Cathy Shafran
mlive.com



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