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Navy rolling out bill program that rewards energy savers

Apr. 12, 2013 - 08:52AM   |  
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Electric bills are on their way to base housing across the country. Power-hungry sailors are going to have to pay up; energy-conscious ones can actually make money.

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Electric bills are on their way to base housing across the country. Power-hungry sailors are going to have to pay up; energy-conscious ones can actually make money.

The Resident Energy Conservation Program was tested in privatized housing in Hawaii, and sailors have been receiving bills there since Oct. 1. Officials view the Hawaii test as a success, and now it’s rolling out everywhere else stateside.

The implications are significant. In February, one household in family housing in Hawaii received a $239 rebate for low electricity use. Another was stuck with a $445 bill.

Rebate checks on average were $50, while bills were around $53, said Greg Raap, the regional vice president in Hawaii for Forest City Military Communities, a military housing company.

This month, the Navy began sending bills to sailors in family housing in most of Navy Region Southeast, an area that encompasses seven states, including the fleet concentration area in Florida.

By October, 72 percent of family housing units, some 26,427 households, will be involved in the billing system. By 2015, 99 percent of the 36,172 units in the service’s privatized housing stock will be enrolled. Billing in Washington and some Midwest states will also include gas utilities. Sailors in barracks will not be billed.

RECP is designed to get families in Navy housing to cut their energy consumption. It’s a shift from the “all you can eat” mentality when it came to on-base utilities.

“The thing about RECP is that you have the opportunity to save. Or if you use more than normal, then you have the opportunity to pay,” said Bill Pearson, the deputy housing director for operations and policy, in a March interview. Pearson recently became the interim director of that program.

And this “opportunity” tends to drive consumption down across privatized military housing. Providers will spend less on energy and have more to spend on other things in Navy neighborhoods, said Corky Vasquez, the former director of housing for operations and policy, who also spoke with Navy Times in March. He now works for Naval Facilities Engineering Command.

The Navy’s four private housing partners receive a fixed utility payment under the Benefits and Housing program that they use to pay for electricity purchased from a power company. Energy costs, however, have increased and are expected to continue their climb.

The combination of flat revenues and growing expenses creates a budget crunch.

RECP helps alleviate some of that strain. The savings won’t be used to bolster the company’s finances.

“All of that savings, by design, rolls back into the project. It doesn’t go back to the partners,” Vasquez said.

How it works

After the pilot program, officials decided to set a 10 percent “buffer” both above and below the average energy usage. Families whose consumption exceeds this will receive a bill; families who use less will receive a rebate. Families who land within the 20 percent buffer zone receive nothing.

Raab and the Navy said each category includes around a third of households.

The bills and rebates are based on the difference between the amount of energy consumed and the buffer. While utility prices vary through the day, energy use is what’s measured, so price spikes won’t have an impact on bills or rebates.

Averages are calculated monthly, not year to year, so abnormal weather patterns won’t have an impact.

The Navy calculates different averages for different types of homes. For example, houses are grouped together based on region, size, number of bedrooms and date of construction.

“It’s not about the number of people you have; it’s about the square footage of heating and cooling space. That’s the biggest component of your utility bill,” Vasquez said.

There are exceptions to the program for families with unique situations, such as a medical need.

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