(This story first appeared in the Cedar Rapids Gazette.)

A few months ago, my wife called me to her computer to view our electric bill.  Although the weather had been mild the previous month we were still proud to see a $13.18 bill, or about 45 cents a day.

That’s a low bill for us but even when we figure in higher use during hot and cold seasons our monthly average bill is $38, or about 32% of the average $114 residential bill. Our medium size home has typical appliances and lights yet we annually pay Alliant Energy about $936 less than other families.

We’ve done nothing magical, and nearly any home following our strategy is certain to reduce their costs without sacrificing comfort or convenience.  Here are gradual steps we took to save money and electricity.

First, we exercise the power of the human index finger. If it’s not in use, we turn it off. The sun provides free light and heat yet never sends a bill. In winter, we open south facing blinds to welcome the sun’s light and warmth and close them at sunset.

Second, we embrace technology. Incandescent bulbs are bygone era dinosaurs.  Modern LED bulbs provide better light while consuming much less electricity. Although costly just a few years ago, now LED’s are competitively priced. We didn’t gradually replace incandescents. Instead we tossed out those still working to convert the whole house to efficient lighting. It was a bit of an “ouch” for Marion, who is a “Yankee of the “use it up, wear it out, make do our do without” philosophy.  However, almost immediately our electric bill shrank enough to cover bulb costs. Savings will continue for years.

Third, when buying a new appliance, we purchase the most energy efficient model available, which generally wears the Energy Star logo. Old appliances are costly thieves. Efficient replacements normally cost slightly more than less efficient models, but utility savings quickly erase the difference. Efficiency is a wise financial investment.

With high efficiency in place our bill shrank to $55 a month, or just under half the average home’s cost.  We wanted to do better so contracted with Site Gen Solar in Cedar Rapids to install a solar electric, or photovoltaic, system.

Just before the 2016 June summer solstice they installed a modest system  and six months months later we received tax credits that dropped its cost nearly in half. Every day our photovoltaics convert sunlight into electricity. When we’re making more power than we’re using electricity runs our meter backward, enters the grid, and helps power neighboring homes. The photovoltaic system dropped our average bill to $36, and we’re enjoying an 11% return on our solar electric investment.

Efficiency and photovoltaics do more than reduce cost. They help us avoid burning coal and gas used to generate electricity. We have taken a positive step toward reducing climate change. It feels good.

During our quest to reduce cost we had a surprising partner – Alliant Energy. Alliant gave us information and financial incentives to buy less of their product. It’s an ironic position for a company. Imagine Exxon Mobile or Walmart doing the same!  We are neither employees nor stockholders of the utility but appreciate their help.

Nearly every family can protect itself from increased cost and help the environment by using energy efficiently. Some can add photovoltaics to further cut cost. For information on how to receive a free energy assessment, rebates for efficient equipment, and several other ways of easily reducing cost contact Alliant.  For anyone interested in adding photovoltaics the City of Cedar Rapids and Linn County are partnering a Solar Group Buy this year to reduce installation costs. To learn more access www.SolarizeLinnCounty.com.


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