Efficiency Gains

Energy is on everyone's mind, from politicians to our neighbors, but we are not helpless! The uncertain economy is a perfect time for you to evaluate your own energy use--and find the savings.

Andrew Carnegie spent heavily in down economic times. He built new factories and tuned up his company. When the economic depression ended, Carnegie Steel (later renamed U.S. Steel) was stronger and ready to grow. This is a classic lesson of winter preparation leading to a strong spring.

We Nebraskans are facing a tough "winter" of our own. High energy prices affect everything, from the price at the pump to the cost of commodities. Yet several communities are following Carnegie's example by wisely investing in energy efficiency, despite the economy.

Recently, rural Tecumseh spent money to save money. Partially using funds from the Recovery Act, Tecumseh installed nearly 100 LED outdoor light fixtures. LEDs, or "light-emitting diodes," are lights that use a fraction of the energy other light bulbs use. They are bright, require less electricity, and can produce light in a pleasing spectrum.

The new lights are expected to save Tecumseh more than $6 thousand per year. But LEDs are expensive to purchase and install; the project cost almost $187 thousand. That's where government loans come into play, according to Brian Chaffin, Tecumseh's city engineer.

"Without additional funding and support, a lot of these smaller, more rural towns would not be able to get these projects done," Brian said.

Big government grants can help rural communities improve their energy infrastructure. Tecumseh only invested $37,000, a sliver of the project's total cost. There are smaller loans available for individuals, farmers, or ranchers.

The Nebraska government has resources on available funding for energy improvements. Visit their website, at http://www.neo.ne.gov/loan/ for more information.

There are several professionals who can help guide you through energy efficiency options for your home or business. The non-profit Energize Nebraska educates customers and helps install solar, wind, and efficiency upgrades for residential and commercial properties.

Improving your energy efficiency is a great way to save money in the long term. Remember: it's always cheaper to conserve than to generate.

Focusing on energy efficiency investments is like tilling your soil before seeding. It takes a little extra investment in the beginning, but you get a much better outcome. Andrew Carnegie earned immense wealth following this strategy. Tecumseh is likewise investing in the "off-season."

You and your communities can do the same, and come out of this recession energized.