Guest column by Curtis Condon, editor of Ruralite magazine in Hillsboro, Oregon

I’m old enough to remember when penny candy actually cost a penny. For a nickel, you could buy enough candy to rot your teeth out, as my mother used to say.

But what does a penny buy these days? Not much. The government can’t even make a penny for a penny anymore. According to the U.S. Mint, it now costs 1.5 cents to produce one.

About the only thing of value you can still get for a penny is electricity. You might call it “penny electricity.”

To make the math easier, let’s say the average rate for a kilowatt-hour of electricity is 10 cents. That is 60 minutes of 1,000 watts of electricity for a dime, so a penny of electricity equates to 100 watts. It’s enough to power a 9-watt LED lightbulb for 11 hours, all for only a penny.

Where else can you get that kind of value? Gas prices have come down from their stratospheric levels of several years ago, but there is still no comparison to the value of electricity. For example, if a gallon of gas costs $2.50, and your car gets 25 miles to the gallon, you can drive 176 yards — about two blocks — on a penny’s worth of gas.

I will take 11 hours of lighting for a penny over a two-block drive any day.

The value is just as evident when powering things other than lighting. Take, for instance, your smartphone. Using the same 10 cents per kWh price, penny electricity allows you to fully charge your iPhone more than 18 times for a penny. You can charge it once every day of the year for about 20 cents total.

Not impressed? Well, how about these other examples of what you can do with just a penny’s worth of electricity: power a 1,000-watt microwave on high for six minutes, run a 200-watt desktop computer for 30 minutes or watch 2.5 hours of your favorite shows on a 40-watt, 32-inch, LED television.

We are fortunate that electricity is such an excellent value because we have a huge appetite for it. We use it for so many different things: lighting, heating, cooking, cooling, refrigeration, cleaning, washing, pumping, entertainment, communications — even transportation.

Few corners of our lives are left untouched by electricity. Unfortunately, we don’t always appreciate it. When our monthly electric bill comes, we open it and may complain about the cost. It’s a knee-jerk reaction ingrained in us as consumers. We don’t stop to think about the value we received for the money.

Early in my career, I had the pleasure to interview an elderly woman who vividly remembered the day electricity came to her farm. Her name escapes me, but I do remember she proudly showed me the worn, dog-eared membership certificate the co-op issued to her husband.

“You young people will never know what it was like to have electricity for the very first time,” she said. “It was glorious. Nowadays, you take it for granted.”

Her farm was energized in 1940. She said the price of electricity at the time was slightly less than a penny a kilowatt-hour — true penny electricity.

A lot has changed since then. Wages and the cost of living today are a far cry from 1940 when the average annual wage was less than $150 a month and the average cost of a house was $3,920.

But one thing that hasn’t changed is the value of electricity. In 77 years, its price has risen much slower than the rate of inflation. A penny in 1940 had as much buying power as 17 cents today, which means the residential price of electricity is actually a better deal today than it was in 1940.

So to my way of thinking, the value of electricity is like the bygone days of penny candy, and it’s OK to indulge a little. But, unlike penny candy, penny electricity won’t rot your teeth out.

The Spalon in Linden will be relocating and expanding its services with the help of a $50,000 loan from Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative. The interest-free loan was closed Feb. 29, and made possible by MLEC’s Revolving Loan Fund (RLF).

Owned by Jennifer Keeton of Perry County, The Spalon provides massages, tanning, skin treatments, and salon services. The loan allows her to settle into a different location more conducive to a spa atmosphere and offer more services to new and established clients.

As the loan is paid back over ten years, MLEC can loan it out again for other economic and community development projects. The RLF was established in 1996 with co-op funds and a grant from Rural Utilities Service. Since its inception, the RLF has awarded almost $750,000 in the MLEC service area and is in support of the cooperative’s goal to help local communities grow.

Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative, a Touchstone Energy® cooperative, is a non-profit organization offering reliable, low-cost electricity to over 33,500 members in Hickman, Houston, Humphreys, Lewis and Perry counties.

By Adam Schwartz

In the holiday movie classic “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the lead character, George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart), wishes he had never been born due to financial troubles he is experiencing. Through the help of an angel, he sees how many lives would have been negatively affected if he didn’t exist. George comes to realize that, even with his problems, he has a wonderful life with great friends and family.

So what do you think life would be like if community leaders had not founded your local electric cooperative?

Living in the U.S. in 2015, it is nearly impossible to imagine life without electricity. So many of our modern conveniences that improve the quality of our lives are dependent on electricity as the “fuel” to make them work: from the alarm clock that wakes us up to the refrigerator that keeps our morning milk cold and fresh, from the HVAC unit that keeps us cool in the summer and warm in the winter to the vacuum that lets us clean more efficiently and all those kitchen appliances that save us time and physical energy. Of course, so much of our entertainment, whether it comes from the TV, radio or computer, depends on the kilowatt-hours that your electric co-op provides. Just think: There would be no smartphones or cell phones if there were no electricity.

Businesses of all kinds rely on electricity to produce and sell the products we need. So, it is no wonder that many electric co-ops feel that, while their primary product is electricity, they are really in the quality-of-life business.

As we celebrate the season that reminds us to be thankful for all we have, it is important to remember the 1.3 billion people in the world who still live without reliable electric service. That is equal to about four times the U.S. population!

Many of the things we take for granted living in the U.S. are much harder and more time-consuming for people in developing countries around the world. Your electric co-op is a proud member of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) that is working through its affiliate, NRECA International, and the NRECA International Foundation to help bring power to people in developing countries like Haiti and Liberia. (www.nreca.coop/it-starts-with-power/)

We are thankful that our community ancestors right here had the vision and foresight to do for themselves what needed to be done, gathering our friends and neighbors to form our electric co-op. As the electric business of the 21st century continues to evolve, you can count on your local electric cooperative to meet all of your electric energy needs. More importantly, your co-op is here to help improve the quality of your wonderful life.

Adam Schwartz is the founder of The Cooperative Way, a consulting firm that helps co-ops succeed.  He is an author, speaker and member-owner of the CDS Consulting Co-op. You can follow him on Twitter — @adamcooperative — or email him at aschwartz@thecooperativeway.coop

By Anne Prince

Walls. Floors. Ceilings. Attic. These are some of the prime areas of a home that need insulation in order for you to maximize energy efficiency. According to the Department of Energy (DOE), adding insulation to your home is a sound investment that is likely to quickly pay for itself in reduced utility bills. In fact, DOE estimates that you can reduce your heating and cooling needs up to 30 percent by properly insulating and weatherizing your home.

If your home is more than 20 years old and was not specifically constructed for energy efficiency, additional insulation can likely reduce your energy bills and increase the comfort level of your home. The actual amount of savings for each home depends upon several factors—the current level of insulation, your climate, efficiency of your heating/cooling system and your utility rates. On average, older homes have less insulation than homes built today, but even adding insulation to a newer home can pay for itself within a few years.

So, where do you start?

You first need to determine how much insulation you already have in your home and where it is located. If you need assistance, many electric cooperatives conduct energy efficiency audits for the home and will check insulation as a routine part of the assessment. For those with the DIY spirit, you can conduct an insulation audit yourself using TVA’s eScore self audit.

Here is what you will should be looking for:

  • Where your home is, isn’t, and/or should be insulated
  • The type of insulation in your home
  • The R-value and the thickness or depth (inches) of the insulation

A prime area that is chronically under-insulated is the attic. Whether you live in a cool or warm climate, attic insulation is essential to help keep warm air inside in the winter and prevent hot attic air from heating your living spaces in the summer. If you have R-19 or less insulation in your attic, consider bringing it up to R-38 in moderate climates and R-49 in cold climates. For flooring in cold climates, if you have R-11 or less insulation, consider bringing it up to R-25.

How does insulation work?

Heat flows naturally from a warmer space to a cooler space. During winter months, this means heat moves directly from heated living spaces to adjacent unheated attics, garages, basements and even outdoors. It can also travel indirectly through interior ceilings, walls and floors—wherever there is a difference in temperature. During summer months, the opposite happens—heat flows from the exterior to the interior of a home. Proper installation of insulation creates resistance to heat flow. Heat flow resistance is measured or rated in terms of its R-value—the higher the R-value, the greater the insulation’s effectiveness. The more heat flow resistance your insulation provides, the lower your heating and cooling costs will be.

Save green by going green

Today, you have choices when it comes to selecting insulation for the home, including an environmentally-friendly option made of recycled materials, such as scrap blue jeans. It looks similar to chopped up blue jeans and is treated for fire safety. With an insulating R-value similar to fiberglass insulation, this blue-jean insulation is a great option.

Get started and get saving

While an older home will never be as efficient as a new home, an insulation upgrade will make a noticeable difference in your energy use and wallet. A well-insulated home is one of the most cost-effective means of saving energy and decreasing heating and cooling bills. For more information, contact your local electric cooperative.

 

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Anne Prince writes on consumer and cooperative affairs 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.

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