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Protect Electronics, Prevent Hazards

Big-ticket electronics, such as televisions, computers, and gaming consoles, are at the top of many holiday wish lists—but safety may not be. Purchasing, installing, and operating these items safely protects not only the expensive equipment, but also your entire home. The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) offers the following tips, and for more information, visit holidaysafety.org.

Safety tips

  • Always purchase electrical devices from a reputable retailer that you trust. Be especially wary when making online purchases.
  • Check that all electrical items are certified by a nationally recognized testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Canadian Standards Association (CSA), or Intertek (ETL).
  • Always read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions before use.
  • Send warranty and product registration forms for new items to manufacturers in order to be notified about product recalls. Recall information is also available on the website of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (http://www.cpsc.gov).
  • Never install an exterior television or radio antenna close enough to contact power lines if it falls.
  • Never remove the ground pin (the third prong) to make a three-prong plug fit into a two-prong outlet.
  • All appliances and cords should be kept in good condition. Examine them regularly for damage, and repair or dispose of damaged items.
  • Keep cords out of reach of children and pets.
  • Make sure entertainment centers and computer workstations have enough space around them for ventilation of electronic equipment.
  • Keep liquids, including drinks, away from electrical devices. Spills can result in dangerous shocks or fires.
  • Unplug equipment when not in use to save energy and reduce the risks for shocks or fires. Power strips or surge protectors make a good central turn-off point.
  • Always unplug electrical items by grasping the plug firmly rather than pulling on the cord.
  • If you receive any kind of shock from a large appliance or any other electrical device, stop using it until an electrician has checked it.
  • If an appliance smokes or sparks, or if you feel a tingle or light shock when it’s on, stop using it. Discard and replace it or have it repaired by an authorized service provider.

 Extension cords

  • Extension cords are meant to provide a temporary solution. They should not be used as a long-term or permanent electrical circuit.
  • Never use a cord that feels hot or is damaged in any way. Touching even a single exposed strand can result in an electric shock or burn.
  • Only use weather-resistant, heavy gauge extension cords marked “for outdoor use” outside.
  • Keep all outdoor extension cords clear of snow and standing water.
  • Arrange furniture so that there are outlets available for equipment without the use of extension cords.
  • Do not place power cords or extension cords in high traffic areas or under carpets, rugs, or furniture (to avoid overheating and tripping hazards), and never nail or staple them to the wall or baseboard.

 Surge protector or power strip?

Although surge protectors and power strips both allow you to plug several devices in one location, it is important for consumers to understand that they are not interchangeable. A true surge protector includes internal components that divert or suppress the extra current from surges, protecting your valuable electronics from electrical spikes, while a power strip simply provides more outlets for a circuit.

Source: Electrical Safety Foundation International

Cooking Efficiently

Control energy costs while preparing holiday feasts

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that cooking alone accounts for 4 percent of total home energy use, and this figure doesn’t include the energy costs associated with refrigeration, hot water heating, and dishwashing.

As holiday parties and potlucks gear up, keep these tips in mind to control energy costs:

  • Don’t peek. Every time the oven door is opened, the temperature inside is reduced by as much as 25 degrees, forcing it to use more energy to get back to the proper cooking temperature.
  • Turn it down or turn it off. For regular cooking, it’s probably not necessary to have your oven on as long—or set as high—as the recipe calls for. For recipes that need to bake for longer than an hour, pre-heating the oven isn’t necessary. And residual heat on an electric oven or stovetop will finish the last 5 to 10 minutes of baking time. Just remember to keep the oven door closed or the lid on until time is up. Alternately, if you’re baking in a ceramic or glass dish, you can typically set your oven for 25 degrees less than the recipe calls for. Because ceramic and glass hold heat better than metal pans, your dish will cook just as well at a lower temperature.
  • Give your burners a break. For your stovetop to function effectively, it’s important that the metal reflectors under your electric stove burners stay free of dirt and grime.
  • Don’t neglect your slowcooker. Or your microwave, toaster oven, or warming plate. For example, the average toaster oven can use up to half the energy of the average electric stove over the same cooking time. Information to help you estimate how much energy your own appliances use is available on EnergySavers.gov.
  • Give your furnace the day off.  If your next party involves a lot work for your stove, think about turning down your furnace to compensate. The heat of the oven and all those guests will keep the temperature comfortable.
  • Make contact. Electric stovetops can only transmit heat to pans they are in direct contact with; the less contact your pan has with the burner, the more energy the stovetop will have to expend to heat the pan. If cooking with your warped pan is taking longer than it should, it may be time for a flat-bottomed update.

Source: U.S. Department of Energy

Spotting Energy Myths and Scams

A quick Internet search reveals many ways to save energy around your home—and a lot of them are too good to be true. Scams generally center around misstatements of science or confusion over utility programs. That’s why it’s always a good idea to call your electric co-op to verify or ask questions about any energy-saving program you see advertised.

The most popular scam right now involves a device that promises to save energy without requiring you to make any changes in behavior, turn anything off, or adjust the thermostat. People who sell these “little boxes” often claim outrageous energy savings—sometimes as much as 30 percent or more―couched around legitimate utility terms like power conditioning, capacitors, and power factor.

The bogus marketing spiel usually goes something like this: The model being sold will control alternating current power factor and reduce electric bills. It will condition your power and make appliances last longer. It uses no power and has no moving parts. It will make motors in your home run better.

Accompanying materials often caution “your utility doesn’t want you to know about this device.” That last part is true—because these boxes are a rip-off.

What’s the reality? While electric co-ops use various components to correct power factor for commercial and industrial consumers, power factor correction is not a concern with homes.

Engineers at the University of Texas-Austin concluded that one of the units could produce no more than a 0.06 percent reduction in electric use in an average house. The Electric Power Research Institute, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based non-profit research consortium made up of electric utilities, including electric cooperatives, recently tested one of the most popular residential power factor correction products and found that it generated average power savings of just 0.23 percent—far from the 30 percent claimed by its manufacturer. At that rate, it would take a typical homeowner more than 70 years to recoup his or her investment.

In short, these devices are nothing more than ordinary capacitors employed in electronic circuits to store energy or differentiate between high- and low-frequency signals. Companies selling these products change names quickly and often, and move from town to town looking for new victims.

There are several questions you should ask a sales representative when reading an ad for the next magical cure-all:

Does the product violate the laws of science? For example, does it claim to be capable of “changing of the molecular structure … to release never-before tapped power.” If true, the invention would quickly be sold in every store across nation, not marketed through fliers or a poorly designed website.

Was the product tested by an independent group? If the performance of the product was not tested and certified by a lab or entity not connected to the company selling it, be very skeptical. Don’t allow a salesman to verify claims. One popular trick is to hook up the little box to a motor and a power meter. When turned on, the meter records a drop in what appears to be power consumption. This is a trick—the meter is actually recording reactive power. This is not the same type of meter hanging on the side of your home.

Is it too good to be true? If so, it probably is. A video getting play on the Internet shows a consumer reporter for a television station testing one of these little boxes. By looking at electric bills before and after installation, he concludes the device is a good buy. However, an excessively hot or unusually cool day can cause one month’s electric bill to run significantly higher or lower than the previous month. Wise consumers always ask to see electric use for the same month from the previous year(s), not previous month, and factor in weather anomalies for any savings claims.

Brian Sloboda is a program manager specializing in energy efficiency for the Cooperative Research Network, a service of the Arlington, Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Additional research provide by ESource.

The Cooperative Research Network monitors, evaluates, and applies technologies that help electric cooperatives control costs, increase productivity, and enhance service to their consumers.

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Chickasaw EC recognized as solar leader

Somerville, Tenn.—A renewable energy survey recognizes the customers of Chickasaw Electric Cooperative as one of the top consumers of solar-generated power in the nation. According the report from the Solar Electric Power Association, CEC generates an average of 216.7 watts of solar energy per customer, the fifth most of any utility in the nation.

This is the first time Chickasaw EC has ranked on the survey. The recognition follows the installation of the West Tennessee Solar Farm in early 2012, which generates 5 megawatts of solar power brought onto the TVA power grid through Chickasaw EC.

The West Tennessee Solar Farm, located in Haywood County, is a cooperative program between the University of Tennessee, Chickasaw EC, TVA and others. It adds about five megawatts of solar power onto the TVA grid, which is enough to power 500 homes. The power harnessed at the solar farm enters the TVA grid through Chickasaw EC lines. The West Tennessee Solar Farm is the largest single source of solar power in the TVA system.

John Collins, General Manager for Chickasaw EC accepted a plaque to mark the occasion at the utility’s August 6 annual meeting in Somerville.

“It is a true honor to be recognized by SEPA for our efforts to add solar power to the TVA system,” Collins said. “The West Tennessee Solar Farm is a tremendous asset to our community and to know it is one of the top per capita generating systems in the country is a feather in our cap.”

TVA currently owns or purchases more than 6,315 megawatts of renewable generation capacity, including 77 megawatts of solar energy.

Clearing the Air

Replace air filters regularly for efficient heating and cooling

Clogged air filters could add $82 to your electric bill every year. Checking, changing, or cleaning your filter once a month saves money and extends the life of your home’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system.

More than half of your monthly energy bill goes toward keeping your home comfortable. While air filters prevent pesky dust and annoying allergens from clogging your HVAC system, dirt, like aging arteries, builds up over time. If left unchecked, a dirty filter strains a home’s heart and forces the HVAC system to work harder to push conditioned air through tight spaces. This results in higher energy bills and—potentially—system failure.

Filter Facts

Air filters protect HVAC systems and perform double-duty by collecting some lose dirt from the air. These handy sieves live in duct system slots or in return grilles of central air conditioners, furnaces, and heat pumps.

Successful filters have a short lifespan—the better a filter catches dirt, the faster is gets clogged and must be cleaned or replaced. Leaving a dirty air filter in place cuts a home’s air quality and reduces HVAC system airflow.

While removing a clogged filter altogether relieves pressure on the system, the system can’t perform well without one. Unfiltered dust and grime accumulate on critical parts like the evaporator coil, causing unnecessary wear and tear.

Monthly Check-up

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) advises checking an air filter once a month and replacing it at least every three months. It’s critical to inspect and replace filters before seasons of heavy use like summer and winter.

If you have pets or smokers in the home, filters clog quickly. Remodeling projects or furniture sanding add more dirt than normal; a filter may need to be changed before the average three-month lifespan expires.

Turn your heating and cooling system off before checking your filter. Slide the filter out of your duct work, and look for layers of hair and dirt. Run a finger across the filter. If the finger comes away dirty or there’s a line left on the filter, it’s time for a change.

When replacing the filter, make sure the arrow on the filter indicating the direction of the airflow points toward the blower motor. To help schedule monthly check-ups, write the date on the side of the filter so you know when it needs to be checked again. Once you’ve made the change, turn your system back on.

Filtering Choices

Shopping for a new filter? Before you leave home, write down the size printed on the side of your current filter. If you get a filter that’s too small, dirt will get around the barrier and invade your system.

There are several different types of filters and levels of efficiency. Filters are either flat or pleated; pleated filters offer extra surface area to hold dirt, making them more efficient.

The most common filters use layered fiberglass fibers reinforced with metal grating. Some filters boost efficiency by using polyester fibers. Electrostatic filters are made from positively- and negatively-charged fibers and capture smaller debris—the charge actively pulls particles from the air like iron filings onto a magnet. No power connection is required, and the charge does not fade over time. The filters best able to capture small debris are high efficiency particulate arrestance (HEPA) filters, but these deluxe filters are mainly used in hospitals and office buildings, not in homes.

Air filters are rated by a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV). Ranging from one to 20, this scale gauges a filter’s effectiveness at blocking debris. Low MERV-rated filters offer high airflow into a cooling or heating system, but only catch large air particles. A higher rating isn’t always better—those filters block more dirt but also reduce system airflow. Most experts recommend filters with a MERV 6 or higher.

Manufacturers are not required to post MERV on filter packaging. Brands like 3M’s Filtrete instead list levels of microparticle performance rating—higher numbers mean the filter catches more particles.  Home Depot’s Air Filter Performance Rating system ranks filters by good, better, best, and premium. No matter what system a store or manufacturer uses, better (and more expensive) filters mean higher MERV scores.

If a family member suffers from allergies, a high MERV filter keeps out excess dander, smoke, and other allergens. Ask a heating and cooling professional what type of filter works best for your home and family needs.

Once you find a filter that works well in your home, it’s a good idea to keep spare filters on hand. Basic filters cost anywhere from $2 to $10; electrostatic filters may range from $18 to $25.

More Efficiency Boosters

Before summer hits, clean cooling system coils inside and outside the home. Leaves, dirt, and other debris gather around a home’s air conditioner throughout fall and winter months. These intruders keep the coils from operating at top efficiency, both shortening the lifespan of the unit and ratcheting up summer cooling bills.

Just as clogged air filters force your system to work harder, blocked vents strain your system. Clean air registers, baseboard heaters, and radiators. Make sure air ducts are not blocked by furniture, rugs, or window treatments.

Want more ways to save? Take the home energy savings tour and see how little changes add up to big savings at www.TogetherWeSave.com.

Sources: ENERGY STAR, U.S. Department of Energy, American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, Home Depot, 3M, Permatron

Megan McKoy-Noe writes on energy efficiency issues for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.

Unplug your electronics and save

Did you know a computer can draw as much electricity as a new refrigerator? Turn it off when not in use or switch on its energy-saving mode. Also, cell phone and mp3 player chargers as well as plasma TVs and entertainment centers pull power even when they’re off. Unplug these and other appliances to save on your electric bill. Find more ways to save at TogetherWeSave.com.

TV [Efficiency] Guides

Which appliance uses more energy: a refrigerator or television? Consumers may not realize that some large entertainment TVs—when used an average of five hours per day—can cost more to operate than a new, basic refrigerator.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 44 percent of American homes have three or more television sets, and each new set adds to a home’s monthly energy bill.

In the market for a new television? You’re not alone—U.S. consumers purchased an estimated 40 million new televisions with an average screen size of 50 inches last year.

To keep your electric bills in check, here are some tips to consider before buying a new television:

Display Tactics

Three parts of a TV impact energy use: display technology, screen size, and resolution. Plasma and liquid-crystal display (LCD) are the two most popular types of display technologies. Plasma screens often are cited as the largest energy user―mainly because their large 42-inch to 65- inch screens typically draw between 240 watts to 400 watts.

LCD TVs don’t need much power to operate―111 watts on average. Most LCD screens range in size from 21 inches to 49 inches. These TVs fall into two categories: those with cold-cathode fluorescent lamps to illuminate the screen; and backlit models employing a light-emitting diode (LED). LED units offer several benefits, notably better picture quality and thinner and lighter screens. They also use slightly less energy, at 101 watts.

Most prospective buyers already have the ideal screen size in mind; remember that the larger the screen, the more energy you’ll drain. And although a high-definition TV (HDTV) transforms the latest blockbuster movie into a theater-like living room experience, these sets generally use more power to generate better picture clarity.

ENERGY STAR Boosts Ratings

ENERGY STAR TVs cut an estimated $3.5 billion from consumer electric bills annually.  The joint energy efficiency ratings program of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created the first set of voluntary television efficiency standards in 1998. Today’s ENERGY STAR-qualified screens use, on average, 40 percent less energy than standard models, whether you’re watching the latest hit show (active mode) or have the screen turned off (standby mode).

Standards are constantly ratcheting up. In 2008, a 50-inch ENERGY STAR-rated television used 318 watts on average. In 2010, those sets had to curb energy use to 153 watts or less, and by 2012 50-inch TVs could not drain more than 108 watts. ENERGY STAR provides an online guide so potential buyers can find qualified televisions ranked by energy use, size, brand, and display type at www.energystar.gov.

ENERGY STAR Partners like TopTen USA also maintain lists of the top energy efficient televisions (and other household appliances) based on size at www.toptenusa.org.

Look for Labels

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has recognized the need for education and easy comparisons for the amount of energy televisions consume. In 2011, a yellow Energy Guide label—a common sight on refrigerators, dishwashers, and other large appliances—became a requirement for TV.

“TVs now vary widely in the amount of energy they use,” comments FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. “By comparing information on the Energy Guide labels, consumers will be able to make better-informed decisions about which model they choose to buy, based on how much it costs to operate per year.”

The label compares the annual operating cost of a specific television to the plug-in cost of similar models. The label must be attached to the front of all televisions; websites selling televisions must also provide an image of the label for prospective buyers.

If you’re not in the market for a new TV but want to make sure your model is operating efficiently, these tips may help you save energy:

  • Turn off the TV and other connected devices when they’re not being used—consider using smart power strips to eliminate continually power draw.
  • Reduce TV brightness by turning down the LCD backlight―you’ll save energy and still retain good picture quality.
  • Turn on the power saver mode, which many new TVs offer
  • Control room lighting. While many energy-saving tips reduce brightness of the screen, you can compensate by dimming lights around your TV.

Your television set isn’t the only energy-guzzler in your residence. Visit www.TogetherWeSave.com to find more ways to save energy and money at home.

Sources: ENERGY STAR, Federal Trade Commission, Cooperative Research Network, CNET.com, Energy Information Administration

Megan McKoy-Noe, CCC, writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service organization for the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives. Brian Sloboda contributed to this article.

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National Breathing Policy

Shawn Taylor,  Executive Director of the Wyoming Rural Electric Association

Here’s an idea. Let’s regulate how much air we in the United States can breathe.  Then let’s gradually, or not, increase the cost for breathing until people decide not to breathe. Or better yet, let’s have people from other countries sell us and decide how much air we can breathe and at what cost. We’ll call it the “National Breathing Policy.”

OK, so that example is a bit extreme. But if you look at everything that oil and its refined products provide for our country in our everyday lives, it might not be that big of a stretch to think that we would be hard pressed to survive as the world’s only superpower without this natural resource.

The big oil derrick spewing “black gold” from the top, or an oil pump jack with its methodical motion pumping oil out of the ground, may be people’s initial visual when thinking about oil. In terms of utility, most folks probably immediately think of oil as a motor lubricant or as gasoline when refined.

I’m guessing that most people don’t think of the compact disk they use in their computer, or the detergent used to wash clothes or dishes, or maybe the petrochemicals (refined oil products) that go into making synthetic materials for clothing, bedding, outdoor recreation equipment, etc.

One only needs to take a close look at the vast uses of oil to appreciate what it means to our daily lives and realize that we need it, we have it, and that we shouldn’t have to import a majority of it from foreign countries, many of which are not friendly to the United States.

In 2008 Secretary of Energy Steven Chu remarked that Americans should “punitively pay at the pump in order to wean them [us] off of gasoline.” This is like  raising the price of the air we breathe so as to legislate or more appropriately regulate how we as citizens behave.

If the current administration had its way, we as a country would pay considerably more for oil, so that we would use less. This is similar to their approach to the use of coal. Make it more expensive, even prohibitively more expensive to use so that we would use less.

On its surface, using less of our natural resources isn’t a bad ingredient for an energy policy – as long as we can stay as productive as we are and historically have been.

But being forced or regulated into using a more expensive and less reliable substitute is counter-productive. And not allowing domestic production of oil or any of our abundant natural resources is equally counter-productive.

When I worked in D.C. for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, we continually invited members of Congress to travel to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to see first-hand what was being proposed for oil-and-gas development. We mainly focused on those members who time and again opposed drilling in ANWR, and we never got any takers.

In my opinion, it was because they didn’t want to see with their own eyes what could be done, and what has been done. That way, they could continue to tell their constituents, without having all the facts, that we shouldn’t develop this “pristine area.” This is our country’s current energy policy; don’t develop what we have, let’s import what others have.

Much like the past two resources we’ve highlighted in WREN (coal and natural gas), oil has played a pivotal role in Wyoming’s past by providing good-paying, stable jobs, revenue to the state coffers, and a source of energy across the country.  Unlike coal and natural gas however, oil production in Wyoming has been continually declining over the past few decades. However, new exploration and extraction technology (i.e. using CO2 for tertiary recovery) will help Wyoming continue to play a role in providing this vital domestic natural resource.

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2012 Farm Energy Audits through USDA NRCS

With America’s farmers continuing to face high energy costs, help is on the way in the form of Headquarters Agricultural Energy Management Plans (AgEMPs), commonly called on-farm energy audits.  Environmental Quality Incentives Program funding is available through the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service for farm energy audits and equipment upgrades. Farm energy audits can generally identify energy savings between 10% and 35% of total energy use, which enables farmers to take more control of their energy use and increase their energy independence.

Although the New Year has barely begun, producers must act quickly in order to secure their AgEMP for 2012. National deadlines for AgEMP application cutoff are February 3, March 30, and June 1, but state deadlines may vary. Farmers should call or visit their local NRCS office to verify application deadlines and apply for the AgEMP.

EnSave is the nation’s leading provider of farm energy audits and stands ready to provide AgEMPs to farmers throughout the United States.  The firm is a registered Technical Service Provider for NRCS and has provided thousands of farm energy audits over its 20 year history.

“We commend NRCS for committing to energy efficiency,” says Craig Metz, EnSave’s Chief Executive Officer. EnSave provides AgEMPs by working with its national network of local data collectors to conduct the on-farm audits.

“These local resources live within the region and often personally know many of the farmers. Our data collectors visit the farms to collect the energy use data, and our engineers analyze the information. Our engineers then develop recommendations and provide them to the farmer in a written report,” says Metz.

The AgEMP includes a review of current energy use for all fuels, specific recommendations for energy efficiency, and payback periods for recommended equipment. The AgEMP can also be used to access additional NRCS funding for implementation of energy efficient equipment.  Interested producers can call EnSave at (800) 732-1399 to learn more about the process or contact their local NRCS office to apply for an AgEMP.

About EnSave:

EnSave is the leading agricultural energy efficiency consulting firm in the United States. They help their clients achieve energy efficiency goals while also helping farmers save energy and reduce their environmental impact. The inspiration for their work is the hardworking men and women on the farm, and they strive to provide solutions that strengthen the farm and provide long-term viability.

Their passion is helping American agriculture become more sustainable and profitable through energy efficiency and resource conservation.