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Online tool helps area consumers manage energy costs at home

With the costs of heating a home and driving a vehicle on a steady rise, many people in the central Pennsylvania region are dreading the upcoming winter months when bills tend to rise anyway.
Tyrone and surrounding county consumers looking to lower their home energy bills can now go to the Huntingdon-based Valley Rural Electric Cooperative Web site at www.valleyrec.com for some fast help. With a few mouse clicks, Valley’s new HomeEnergyCalculatorTM will analyze their current energy use and allow homeowners to simulate changes that could dramatically reduce their electricity costs.
“We want to provide our members with more information and control over their electric bills,” said Ed Dezich, Valley REC president and CEO. “This interactive tool takes the guesswork out of where their energy dollars are going and it shows how much money can be saved by implementing certain conservation measures.”
The cooperative selected the HomeEnergyCalculatorTM, provided by Apogee Interactive, Inc., because of the software’s ease of use and ability to accurately approximate savings for homes in the utility’s service territory.
The site is very specific in terms of the user describing the style of home, age of the heating and/or cooling system, type of heat used, what kind of windows are installed, and a variety of other specifics related to what consumes energy in a home.
Valley Communications Specialist Susan Penning noted that besides providing an actual estimation on energy costs, the site also allows a consumer to see what changes can be made to save on costs.
“Users can try changes like adjusting their thermostat settings, turning down their water heater thermostats, adding storm windows or switching their heating systems to see how much those measures might save,” said co-op Energy Marketing Technician Denny Knepp.
The calculator automatically factors in local weather and current electricity prices.
“It’s pretty close to being accurate on your energy use,” said Penning. “You can feel confident with the numbers you’re getting out of it.”
Statistics show that Web-based tools like the energy calculator are becoming essential to cost-effective customer service as consumers rely on the Internet more and more to help manage their busy households.
“This calculator, along with other upcoming programs like online meter reading and bill payment options, will greatly expand what our members can accomplish at their convenience – after business hours,” said Dezich. “These tools will also offer cost savings to the co-op through reduced member calls and on-site visits.”
Penning added that the Web site also offers a calculator for fuel, appliances, lighting, space heaters, and televisions. She said that the calculators help consumers see what the smart was is to go when it comes to purchasing appliances.
“It’s an educational tool,” noted Penning. “A 42 inch plasma TV will cost you dollars a day to run. People often don’t realize the cost that comes with running certain appliances.”
She added, “It’s all about your lifestyle and what you want to pay for.”
According to Apogee president Susan Gilbert, the HomeEnergyCalculatorTM is one of the firm’s most popular applications, stating, “Valley joins more than 200 utilities nationwide that have added this educational feature to their Web sites. (The calculator’s) ability to answer customers’ questions 24/7 and reduce inquiries help the co-op in accomplishing its goal of increasing customer satisfaction while lowering operating costs.”
Penning added, “We want people to have control of their energy use. We’re trying to help educate  people on their energy use and where it’s going. It’s good for their pocketbook and the environment.”
Valley Rural Electric Cooperative, Inc. is a member-owned utility headquartered in Huntingdon that provides electric service to more than 23,000 consumers in eight counties of south-central Pennsylvania, including Bedford, Blair, Centre, Franklin, Fulton, Huntingdon, Juniata and Mifflin.
Apogee Interactive Inc. is the leading provider of online solutions to the energy industry. The company also provides eLearning systems, call center and bill analysis programs and load management platforms to utilities and their trade associations throughout North America and New Zealand.