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Tall Order to Get People Excited over Energy Efficiency?
Wind and solar power could be monumental, but energy efficiency in our homes is still the key.
November 12, 2010 by Steven Castle

I am so proud of my town. We recently erected a 386-foot-high wind turbine in Templeton, Mass., a small, rural community in central Massachusetts (the turbine’s even on the town’s website home page). The 1.65-megawatt turbine will provide about 5 percent of our town’s electrical needs, as well as help power our high school and middle school, which sit in the tower’s slender shadow.

In fact, our wind turbine will become an educational resource for our schools. Members of our school and municipal light department even formed a Green Energy Educational Collaborative—known as the GEEC Squad—which is attracting attention from other area communities. Other towns are now looking to us to see how those involved navigated the process of planning for and erecting something so large and expensive. We have the step-by-step-guide.

I’m not writing this just to brag about my town. Other proposed wind turbine projects in nearby towns have met with opposition. In Templeton, though, we embraced it.

“This was just about common sense,” said our state senator, Stephen M. Brewer. “We’ve got to find some ways to change the world, my friends. … We need to create some new visions for the 21st century.” And he pointed to our wind turbine as one of those visions.

The head of our municipal Light and Water Department, Sean Hamilton, discussed Massachusetts’ mandate that utilities get 20 percent of their energy from clean energy sources by the year 2020—and that with the addition of a large wind farm set to come online in western Mass. next year, Templeton will already be at about 17.5 percent. With hydropower as well as nuclear plant contracts, he said Templeton’s electricity could consist of 70 percent clean energy by 2020.

That 70 percent would be an impressive feat. But as Hamilton went on to say, “This [wind turbine] is just a piece of the puzzle that has to be solved.”

So true, because as impressive as 70 percent clean power is, it’s not 100 percent. Renewable and clean energy cannot do it alone. By even the most optimistic projections, technologies like solar and wind will not replace fossil fuels for decades.

This is why we need more energy efficiency within our homes. According to a McKinsey and Co. report, as well as others, energy efficiency in our homes and businesses is the easiest and most effective way to curb greenhouse gas emissions. It’s also an easy and effective way to save money. Even better, we have the technologies to do this, not in the form of giant wind turbines, but in the forms of light dimmers and programmable thermostats and energy monitoring systems and home control systems and occupancy sensors and the list goes on and on. Even better, these products are much more readily available than colossal wind turbines.

Don’t get me wrong: I love seeing our town’s majestic wind turbine. It’s getting people in tiny Templeton, Mass., excited about green energy and energy efficiency. But we should also remember that being more energy efficient in our homes can turn that projected 70 percent of clean energy use into 100 percent. And that’s not such a tall order.

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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates.

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