Building up Green Blocks 

Monday night, Mayor John Engen announced his Green Blocks Pilot Project, an energy conservation plan he hopes will take off with citizen interest. By piggybacking on an existing Northwest Energy home audit program, Engen’s initiative could lower Missoula’s energy, water and waste consumption.

“If we’re not using energy, we’re not creating greenhouse gases,” Engen said in a prepared statement, “We’re saving money, we’re saving resources.”

The program calls for four, two-block areas of town to apply for the special designation. If 90 percent of homeowners in a two-block area complete applications, they’ll become eligible for Green Blocks. Then, Northwestern Energy will conduct energy audits to figure out each home’s energy use. They’ll identify areas where improvements like weather-stripping, insulation, programmable thermostats, hot water tank insulation and low-flow water savers will trim consumption. Then they’ll come install them. Mountain Water Company and Allied Waste have also joined the project to offer similar water and waste audits.

Missoula neighborhoods have until May 22 to apply for the program. The mayor will select participants June 2. If it works, eight city blocks will undergo audits and energy-saving measures.

Those left out need not worry. With as much as a phone call, Northwestern Energy will perform the same services in your home. Since the controversial 1997 de-regulation bill, the State Legislature mandates Northwestern Energy devote a certain amount of its resources (the kind collected on your energy bill as “residential USBC”) toward energy conservation. A lot of folks just don’t know about it.

“Many customers may not pay attention to Northwestern Energy’s advertising of these programs,” explains Greg Jergeson, Chairman of the Montana Public Service Commission, which regulates utility companies. The problem with many energy conservation programs, he says, is that companies struggle to get the word out to customers, which is where Engen’s plan comes in. “With Green Blocks,” Jergeson says, “a lot of that work will come from local folks, and will hopefully lead to a higher level of participation.”
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