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Efficiency in buildings, vital in saving energy

Mt. Edgecumbe High School recently retrofitted its gymnasium to become more energy-efficient and reduce the high cost of utility bills. (Photo by Ed Ronco/KCAW)

It’s no secret that energy is getting more expensive. That’s especially true in big commercial and public buildings. It affects everyone — each of us ends up paying those bills, either as customers paying higher prices for products or through state appropriations. Estimates put the state’s utility bill for public buildings and schools at about $642 million a year.

Loan programs are available, but the language of energy efficiency can be daunting.

That’s where the Renewable Energy Alaska Project, or REAP, comes in. The private nonprofit agency is based in Anchorage. It’s working statewide to educate communities about energy efficiency and renewable energy policies.

Shaina Kilcoyne is the energy efficiency director of REAP. She says they’re working to change the way they talk about saving energy to make the subject more accessible. “Instead of talking about gallons and BTUs and kilowatt hours,” she said, “we can say, ‘In Sitka, we estimate that over 50 million dollars is leaving your community every year in order to bring these fuels.’”

The executive director of the organization, Chris Rose, says the savings would be huge. “So, just think about that,” he said. “Even if you were able to be just 10 percent more efficient, that’s five million dollars that stays in the community, circulates in the community, probably three, four, five times before it leaves.”

REAP is also sharing success stories in hopes of inspiring other communities. The group has a goal to make Alaska 15 percent more energy efficient by the year 2020.

Right now, REAP is launching a pilot program in Kake, Craig and Sitka. The group is developing community-specific profiles to estimate how much money is being spent in each place. They look at how much it costs to import liquid fuel for heat, electricity and transportation.

Organizers hope to replicate this methodology statewide. They estimate that the state is spending $5 billion on energy.

Rose says many people are already working to conserve energy, but that being efficient is different, and maybe even more important.

“Conservation requires behavioral change, and we as humans aren’t always that great at doing that,” Rose said. “The difference is remembering to turn off the light or putting a motion sensor in your room that does it for you. One is conservation and the other is efficiency.”

Some large establishments are already making their buildings more efficient. Mt. Edgecumbe High School just retrofitted its gym. It now has strings of lights that dim if no one walks under them.

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