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Texas Heat Spurs Surge in Sales of Energy-Efficiency Upgrades

Efficiency firms in Austin in particular say they're experiencing a boom in business as residents try to keep cool for less electricity and money

By Maria Gallucci, SolveClimate News

Aug 17, 2011

As heat-swamped Texans crank up the A.C. to fend off triple-digit temperatures, many more residents are turning to energy-efficiency firms to help them rein in soaring electricity bills and reduce their use of the state's nearly maxed-out power supply.

For residents of Austin, a citywide habit of energy conservation means plenty of companies are already there to meet the demand.

, a Daytona Beach, Fla.-based energy management consultant, says the extreme weather has driven up sales for home efficiency audits at its offices in Austin, Dallas and Houston since late May, when the heat wave first hit the Lone Star State.

"Record heat is very uncomfortable for folks ... and their utility bills skyrocket" when they run the air conditioning all day, said Jeff Caveney, the company's senior manager of sales and marketing.

"Extreme temperatures, more than anything else, make it smart to open up an energy-efficiency office [in Texas]," he told SolveClimate News.

WellHome offers efficiency evaluations and installs energy-saving insulation, heating and cooling systems, windows and lighting while tightening air leaks around the house. In addition to its Texas branches, the company has 17 offices in 14 other states and Washington D.C.

Compared with figures from January to April, customer inquiries for WellHome's services in Austin alone jumped 172 percent from May to July. The number of in-home assessments ticked up by 66 percent, and sales from energy audits were up by 86 percent in that same period.

Central Texas typically undergoes a week or two of 100 degree-plus temperatures during the summer, but not for the 40- and 60-day stretches being felt this year in Dallas and Austin, respectively.

Summer power consumption, as a result, has eclipsed last year's record of 65,766 megawatts on eight different occasions in August so far, setting a new record on Aug. 3 of 68,294 megawatts, according to the (ERCOT), which controls and monitors the operation of the state's electrical power system.

The operator this week signed short-term contracts with and to activate two "mothballed" natural-gas units apiece through October. They will provide up to 400 megawatts of backup power should an outage occur during the heat wave.

The accompanying drought hitting Texas is the state's second-worst single-year dry spell since rainfall record-keeping began in 1895, the driest year being 1918, according to climatologists at the National Weather Service.

Phones 'Ringing Off the Hook'

With the threat of rolling blackouts and mandatory power and water cutbacks constantly looming, "our phones are ringing off the hook right now," said Lloyd Lee, president of Austin-based .

The four-year-old firm installs rooftop solar and small wind systems, plus solar water heaters and geothermal heat pumps. It also partners with local energy auditors to ensure the clean energy isn't wasted in inefficient homes.

"[The heat] is certainly helping the industry that we're in right now," Lee said. "When you're paying a higher electric bill, that's when you start to look at" renewable energy and efficiency options.

Ed Clark, spokesperson for city-owned utility , said that air conditioning costs in hot weather account for 80 percent of the average residential bill. The utility estimates it will rake in $4.5 million in additional revenues from elevated energy use in July.

WellHome's Caveney said its Austin branch conducts the most energy audits among all its Southern offices, thanks largely to an efficiency-minded culture spurred by the state capital's utility.

History of Efficiency, Green Building

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