RE Magazine

Consumer Confidantes 

Electric co-ops find using members as an extra set of eyes and ears pays dividends.

Cover Story

By Jody Garlock

When members of Valley Electric Association (VEA) in Pahrump, Nev., began clamoring a half-decade ago for ways to tap into renewable energy―particularly the desert region's abundant sunshine―the 20,800-member co-op knew just where to start the process. It tapped its VEA Ambassador Program, a member advisory committee (MAC), to brainstorm ideas.

"The ambassadors sat down with us, and soon we had penciled out a program for solar water heating," recalls Linda Kass, the co-op's member & communications coordinator.

Armed with the input, the co-op in 2009 teamed with Eagan, Minn.-based Rheem Manufacturing Company―which also produces super-efficient Marathon electric water heaters that many electric co-ops have marketed for years―to roll out the largest residential solar water heating initiative in the nation. The co-op offers zeropercent financing on four sizes of Rheem solar water heaters, with payments running as little as $23 per month.

"The appliances cost between $2,000 and $2,800, with installation running about $1,200," Kass remarks. "Since we use all local trade people, we've created 50 to 100 job opportunities."

She continues: "Participating consumers are saving between $21 and $45 per month and can produce more hot water while reducing the size of their carbon footprint―more than 3,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per home annually. In addition, they qualify for a 30 percent federal renewable energy tax credit. But it all came about chiefly through an incredible partnership between our volunteer ambassadors and staff."

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