Josh Benham

A recent alliance could help Avista Utilities customers in Union County earn big savings while improving their energy efficiency.

Beginning Jan. 1, Avista’s partnership with Energy Trust of Oregon officially made Energy Trust’s slate of energy-efficiency programs and services available to Avista residential and eligible business customers in La Grande and the surrounding communities, as well as locations across Southern Oregon.

The partnership is designed to help customers save natural gas while lowering utility bills at the same time.

“Avista gets a mechanism to help their customers save energy (and) to get more out of their energy,” Susan Badger-Jones, Eastern Oregon Outreach Manager for Energy Trust said.

Energy Trust is an independent nonprofit organization that handles technical services and financial incentives that works with customers, utility companies and contractors to save customers energy and generate renewable power.

Badger-Jones said the partnership is the result of an Oregon Public Utility Commission ruling bringing Avista into a service agreement last spring, with NW Natural and Cascade Natural Gas having already been in partnership for years.

“We work very closely with OPUC, and really, (Avista is) just more in line with what the two other natural gas companies are doing,” Badger-Jones said.

A transition period through 2016 allowed Energy Trust to have time, from an administrative standpoint, to get its system set up to receive Avista funds, Energy Trust Communications Manager Hannah Cruz said. The transition also provided, on a limited basis, discounted residential showerheads through retail channels, incentives for gas fireplaces at select retailers and new commercial construction design assistance for Avista customers.

“We’re excited to be available to La Grande and the surrounding area,” Cruz said. “We have strong natural gas efficiency programs. Customers overall can now see these programs coming out to (the) area and helping them weather these extreme events we’ve experienced so far this winter.”

Cruz added that the savings are “real,” and the $45 million that Energy Trust helped natural gas customers in Oregon save last year on utility bills backs up her claim.

“Now we get to bring those savings to La Grande,” Cruz said.

She pointed to examples like a $100 incentive for an efficient water heater, cash incentives for gas furnaces for lower income residents and free energy saver kits with energy-efficient shower heads.

Badger-Jones added that there’s a $200 incentive for Avista customers if they upgrade old furnaces to a high-performance furnace that’s running on natural gas. Other programs or incentives Badger-Jones said would be available include: improving insulation for gas-heated homes; a $200 cash incentive for improving a gas boiler to 88 percent annual fuel utilization efficiency or greater; $100 for a water gas tank if it met certain qualifications; and up to $250 for improving direct-vent gas fireplaces.