“It’s a misconception that we need to produce more energy — we don’t. We need to save energy through measures that will lower the cost and demand.” Johnathan Van Roekel, an AmeriCorps Resource Assistance for Rural Environments (RARE) member working for Lake County Resources Initiative, offered that perspective during a recent discussion of programs that he and LCRI Dir. Nick Johnson are helping locals access to increase their energy savings and decrease their energy costs over time.
Renewable energy is often at the center of conversations about how our country can reduce its energy dependence, but Johnson and Van Roekel emphasized that focusing on how to better use the energy we already produce is more important.
The argument he and Johnson make for this perspective is not environmental, but economical. The effort people put into energy savings will reduce their bottom line, Van Roekel explained, which is especially important for businesses, farms and ranches in rural areas like Lake County.
Small, rural businesses; ag producers; and farmers can qualify for free assistance with renewable and energy efficiency projects.
LCRI and Spark Northwest are in the midst of a two-year partnership to provide Renewable Energy Development Assistance (REDA) to rural Oregonians.
REDA is a service process that increases rural energy productivity and independence. It can help small businesses and farming operations implement certain projects — like solar photovoltaics, solar heating, energy efficiency, micro hydro, wind energy and methane digesters — to cut their energy expenses.
Over the past year, LCRI helped 19 commercial buildings in Lakeview with their energy efficiency by replacing existing fluorescent lighting with LED lighting at no cost to the building or business owner.
There are many opportunities in Lakeview to upgrade simple things like lighting that can make a big difference in cutting energy costs, Johnson said.
Much of LCRI’s work involves intakes and consultations. Letting locals know what resources are available to them is key, even if they choose not to take advantage of them.
LCRI connects producers and small business owners to funding opportunities and project assistance for energy saving projects. If a business owner or producer has a project they want to be funded, LCRI can provide technical guidance and grant assistance.
Through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), small businesses and ag producers can earn up to 25% reimbursement of the cost for such projects.
“Farmers are constantly adapting new technology and looking for ways to make their operations pencil out. Any dollar, any cent saved helps them stay in business another year,” Van Roekel said.
LCRI can direct people toward Energy Trust trade ally contractors on a statewide basis who will implement the client’s energy saving project if approved. Such contractors are credible, have fair prices and extensive experience.
“A lot of people want to implement energy saving projects but think they don’t have the money. That up-front expense should not be a barrier and there’s ways around that,” Johnson explained.
Energy saving programs and incentives are typically under-utilized, he said, due in part to the fact that some people and businesses are unaware of the resources available to them and because the process to qualify can be daunting when going it alone.
“These programs were put in place to be accessible to everybody, but they’re not because there are so many hurdles. We’re trying to decrease barriers to accessing those funds,” Johnson related.
Both he and Van Roekel are focused on educating people in Lake County about the economic benefits of implementing energy saving projects with the help of programs and incentives like REAP and REDA.
“We’re talking about small-scale, localized, direct benefits to citizens of Lake County,” Van Roekel said. In their conversations with local farmers, producers and business owners, he and Johnson are trying to steer the renewable energy conversation away from a climate-based narrative, because “it’s not about that.” Instead they work to help people understand how renewable energy and energy saving projects will lead to better financial stability.
Call LCRI at 541-947-5461 for more information.