July 25, 2002

A battery of energy information

  • Energy Ideas Clearinghouse provides conservation solutions
    WSU Energy Program


    When Grays Harbor PUD officials needed information to integrate energy into the community’s design plan for a replacement to historic Aberdeen High School — destroyed by fire last January — they contacted the Energy Ideas Clearinghouse (EIC).

    What the utility district got was a letter with recommendations on how to conserve energy and protect the environment, such as natural daylighting and passive solar design.

    In the letter, an EIC specialist mentioned other energy resources to contact for further assistance. The letter also said, “While the loss of the original building was an emotional loss for many, the opportunity to build a new facility offers many benefits. Since operating costs of most school facilities are second only to salaries, the opportunity to build a far more efficient building that enhances occupant comfort and learning — while costing less to operate — is a major benefit.”

    Doug Smith, Grays Harbor PUD energy and conservation manager said, “The EIC data is valuable because it will help us better plan the new school. We now have some tools to use with the school officials in the design process.”

    natural daylighting
    Photo courtesy of WSU Energy Program
    One solution for conserving energy is natural daylighting.

    Smith predicted even further benefit from the EIC’s services in the future, as the replacement school project moves forward. “I’m sure the school folks are going to have more questions, so I anticipate contacting the EIC again,” he said.

    The response to the Grays Harbor PUD was typical of the tailored solutions that the EIC’s energy experts deliver to a wide range of clients throughout the Pacific Northwest.

    Started in 1990, the EIC is managed and operated by the Washington State University Cooperative Extension Energy Program. It is funded by the Portland-based Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance.

    The EIC provides technical information for utilities and their industrial/commercial customers — including facility owners and operators, procurement officials, communicators and energy professionals — so they can make wise decisions about their energy needs.

    Eleven hours a day, Monday through Friday, clients can tap into the power of the EIC’s engineers, librarians and energy specialists free of charge.

    The staff is dedicated to improving energy efficiency. As employees of the WSU Energy Program, they also directly support a wide range of energy efficiency programs for the Western Area Power Administration, U.S. Department of Energy Office of Industrial Technologies, Fort Lewis, Bangor Submarine Base, Federal Energy Management Program, Rebuild America, and the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance. These partnerships keep EIC staff connected with state-of-the-art technologies and practices.

    Lead EIC energy engineer Rob Penney, who responds to many of the incoming inquiries, is reminded of the value of saving energy and the importance of giving clients quality service every time he looks at a poster of Oregon’s Mount Hood with the words: “Saving Energy Saves Everything.” Penney will tell you, “This is truer than most people realize. Most of the major environmental issues of our time are related to energy production and use.”
    At, consumers can get information on energy-efficient equipment, technologies, products, practices, policies and programs. There is also information about energy events and jobs, energy news articles and publications, software and links to other energy Web sites. The Energy Solutions Database on the Web can be accessed to review actual questions and answers on a variety of commercial or industrial energy topics. Consumers can also talk to engineers about replacing equipment or calculating savings, or ask the EIC research librarians to find current data or literature on best practices.

    The EIC can also be contacted through its hotline at (800) 872-3568, by e-mail at, or by writing to P.O. Box 43165, Olympia, WA 98504-3165.

    Even minor environmental issues — fluorescent lamp and ballast disposal and indoor air quality and lighting glare — are related to energy use.

    Linda Witham, manager of the EIC at the Energy Program, explains the importance of improving the indoor environment: “It increases comfort, boosts employee performance, reduces waste, and saves energy and money.

    “We get so much positive feedback from the surveys that we conduct,” she said. “And, people are taking action because of the information that the EIC provides.”

    A report released this month by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, created under the North American Free Trade Agreement, said that North American power companies cut expenditures on energy efficiency measures by 42 percent between 1995 and 1999. The result was increased air pollution in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

    Aside from the environmental aspects of energy use, it also became apparent since the terrorist attacks last Sept. 11 that energy is critical to national security.

    That makes the role of the EIC even more important, Penney said. “Improving the energy efficiency of a school, office building, industrial complex or government facility is an investment in the country, as well as in an organization’s staff and bottom line.”

    Jim Erickson is a former newspaper reporter. For the past 16 years, he worked in the public sector. He is now with the Washington State University Cooperative Extension Energy Program.

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