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How have high heating costs affected your alternative energy business?

District Voices

Published March 1, 2005  |  March 2005 issue

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[O]ur solar thermal, rather than solar that is for electrical use, has increased dramatically. I can tell by hits on our Web site, which is a very content-rich informational educational Web site, that people's concerns about energy costs have been growing steadily, especially since this last fall, since the heating season kicked in. ... That's how we sell systems to folks; we say it's not a question of if, it's a question of when. So you can jump on board and get your thermal system now or you can wait until everyone is screaming and pulling their hair out.
Tom Carhart, Sales and Marketing Director
Innovative Power Systems—Minneapolis, Minn.

It's the volatility issue that just really yanks the rug out from under us on utility costs. ... We are certainly looking at implementing and constructing an anaerobic digester, which would take livestock manure and essentially process that manure to create methane. And once you get methane you can actually use that to displace natural gas purchases. For example, we have a feed mill that has two boilers in it, runs on a lot of natural gas, and we can actually displace that purchase of natural gas with methane that would be produced by the anaerobic digester.
Kevin Kephart, Dean and Director, Agricultural Experiment Station
South Dakota State University—Brookings, S.D.

I do solar, wood, electric, gas, pretty much any type of heating system. I've noticed a lot more interest in the renewable side of things as the price of fuel goes up. ... I see a lot of people looking for alternative options to bring their costs down, but it's been pretty consistent. I haven't had any trouble finding people to use these systems. So I see a lot more interest. ... I guess I have to turn away more work because of it.
Zeus Stark, Owner
Next Step Energy Systems—Eau Claire, Wis.

Even though prices in the United States are relatively low compared to the rest of the world, Americans are used to having those low prices, and they like them. So as soon as [prices] go up a little bit, they start complaining and they look at other options. Usually people who don't understand solar very well will come in with a lot of interest, because they're mad at the utility. Everybody's more interested, yeah. ... We had a talk the other night downtown, and there was just a little notice in the paper on a night when there was other stuff going on, and 100 people showed up. ... Usually we only have five or six people show up.
Mary Hamilton, Member Manager
Solar Plexus LLC—Missoula, Mont.

As far as we're concerned, we'd like to see the propane prices hit the $1.75 [price] and stay there. That doesn't hurt our feelings at all. That just makes the geothermal look that much more attractive and the return-on-investment times look that much shorter. ... Actually there's been quite an [increase] of calls from churches and things like that, that have the larger heating loads to begin with. ... I guess a lot of the churches are looking for air conditioning anyway and that just gives them another way of reducing their energy bills as well as getting the air conditioning out of one system.
Kevin Olson, Owner
Mid-Valley Geothermal—Reynolds, N.D.

The effect we've seen is probably pretty minimal, surprisingly. I think people are putting all their money into paying the heating bills; they don't have any left for cash to invest in saving energy. So they're kind of in that Catch-22 scenario. ... We're basically a high-efficiency insulation contractor, specialty insulation. Even in new construction, as much as there are energy savings available for people, they don't seem to want to be aware of it or willing to make the investment for the long-term payback. ... It's a real lack of consumer education to the benefits of energy efficiency.
Keith Doney, Owner
Doney Construction—Negaunee, Mich.

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