Apparently NW Natural Gas and Portland General Electric have decided to go out of their way to make me feel guilty about the amount of energy we use here in the MyNWX household.
Each month they jointly send out something called the Personal Energy Report. They mail this to me, rather than sending it via email, despite the fact both have my email address on file and were adamant they wanted to send my bills electronically about a year or so back.
I never asked for this report, but it just started appearing in my mailbox sometime in the last year.
What it does is tell you how much energy I use in this index they created that combines eletricity (kilowatt hours) and natural gas (therms) into a single measurement. They then take this number, put it on a bar graph, and compare your household to 100 neighbors that have a home similar in size and also have gas and electricity service.
This bar graph has three lines. A green line indicates how much energy the most efficient 20% of neighbors in the group uses.
The gray line in the middle is an average of all 100 neighbors.
The blue line at the bottom is your usage rate. Then, in big, bold lettering they give you your rank among the 100 neighbors.
Apparently my house is not very efficient, or I'm using way more juice than everyone else, because every month this report calls out my rank of 75 or lower in the group of 100 and then proceeds to detail ways for me to be more efficient.
I have no issues with pointing this information out. On some level, it's helpful. However, it also lacks complete context. The value of my home is right about average for my neighborhood, which is about as average middle class as it gets. However, my house has air conditioning, which I run from roughly June through September. Yes, it uses significantly more juice than a house without it, which doesn't bother me one bit - I will pay for A/C in my house and not feel a shred of remorse.
However, homes with A/C are not common in the greater Portland area, especially on homes in similar size and value as mine (I'd like to say it was my idea to put it in, but the house came with it, thankfully). I'm curious: How many of the 74 homes who are more efficient than mine have A/C? There could be some, sure, but I'm guessing not many.
Of course, the people putting together this report have no idea if I have A/C or not, or if anyone else does either. They don't know if I have a gas stove or anything else - this entire report is based simply on the fact I and 99 other people in houses of similar size have both gas and electric service.
Again, send me the report if you must, but give it context. My home should only be compared with like homes (i.e., ones with A/C). By ignoring a key point of information, this group is inadvertantly making a blanket statement that the only thing that matters is your energy bottom line. If I simply opened my windows and laid on the floor sweating heavily when the thermostat topped 95 degrees, I'd get a gold star.
The end of the report has something called Action Steps - things you can do to reduce your energy costs. Again, a great idea. But are they helpful? Here's the three things:
1 - Hang laundry to dry. Sure, I could do that, I suppose. That might save a tiny bit of electricity - in those same four months I use my A/C. Not really sure what they expect their customers in Portland to do the other eight months of the year...
2 - Remove your second refrigerator. I'll keep that in mind, if I ever buy one.
3 - Use solar outdoor lights. I'll keep this in mind, also, if I ever start using outdoor lights.
I gotta say, getting this report every month never fails to simply annoy me. It feels a little bit like a personal attack, even though it's really meaningless. It's not like my rates are going up or anything, it's simply a statement of what NW Natural and PGE consider facts.
And I still can't get over how they can't just email this to me...