"Energy Efficiency is at the heart of energy affordability." Tony Earley, Chairman, CEO and President of PG&E Corporation

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PG&E Helps Remote Allensworth Alpaugh Boost Energy Efficiency

By Tracy Correa

ALLENSWORTH – Changing out light bulbs might not seem huge, but for residents in this small town in rural Tulare County, it could mean savings of thousands of dollars in utility costs.

For Susie Rodriguez, (foreground) and her daughter, Susie Rodriguez Jr., PG&E’s efforts will definitely benefit the people of Allensworth. (Photos by Tracy Correa.)

“Every bit helps,” said Susie Rodriguez, who oversees the Allensworth Community Center and welcomes any effort to help residents save money.

Rodriguez also serves on the Allensworth Community Services District board, and those are just a few of her many duties in this town of about 470 people where her 21-year-old son is a school board member and her 22-year-old daughter is a former school board member.

Learn more about the California model for energy efficiency

Allensworth is perhaps best known for the Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park, which honors the town’s African-American founders.

Whole-town efficiency gains

Working closely with community leaders like Rodriguez, PG&E and contracted partners Staples & Associates have set out to make Allensworth and the nearby town of Alpaugh more energy efficient. Alpaugh is a community of about 1,000 people.

Replacing light bulbs in the ceiling fan inside the Allensworth Christian Church will save money.

About $55,000 worth of work is now underway replacing light bulbs and finding any means possible to help the communities save money on utility costs at no cost to the town or its residents.

PG&E, through its local government partnership program, is paying $40,000 directly to Staples & Associates for doing the installations in town buildings — including schools in Allensworth and Alpaugh, community centers and local businesses. A PG&E charitable grant is covering the remaining $15,000 that would normally be charged to customers in the form of a co-payment.

The energy-efficiency project in Allensworth and Alpaugh derived from a concern that people in these isolated towns weren’t taking full advantage of available energy-savings program or just didn’t know what steps to take to lower their energy costs.

PG&E: support, improve communities

When PG&E learned that Allensworth and Alpaugh residents could use some help in lowering their energy bills, the company reached out to community leaders, said PG&E spokesman Denny Boyles.

Nathan Cordova, an electrician with Staples & Associates, replaces 28-watt, T12 florescent bulbs with more energy-efficient T8 bulbs inside Allensworth Elementary School.

“PG&E’s goal is to support and improve the neighborhoods where our customers and employees live and work,” he said. “In these difficult economic times, we want to make sure that our customers know how to save money by using more energy-efficient lights and appliances and taking other measures to conserve. This help is especially critical in underserved communities.”

If the program is successful, it could lead – depending on funding availability — to similar projects in other remote, rural communities.

It’s difficult to understand how remote the towns are unless you’ve visited them and spend time there. For example, residents rarely have internet access, and if they do, it’s a dial-up connection.

Allensworth was founded in 1908 by pioneers who had the idea that African-Americans could own property and live the American dream. It is in rural Tulare County, about 20 miles north of Bakersfield. While the park and its historically-significant buildings are available for public viewing, it doesn’t attract many tourists.

African-American settlers moved out of the area because of drought and lack of resources.

Large Hispanic population

Today, about 93 percent of the town’s residents are Hispanic, and most work as farm laborers. Some 99 percent of students at the Allensworth Elementary School qualify for free- or reduced-price school meals based on family need. But all students eat for free since state rules require such for schools where 70 percent or more of families meet needs requirements.

Inside the Allensworth Community Center, Lupe Rodriguez straightens out a portrait of community founder Col. Allen Allensworth.

It’s much the same in neighboring Alpaugh where 84 percent of the town is Hispanic and all students qualify for free- or reduced-price meals.

The towns are small, so the list of sites to update for energy efficiency is small. However, the anticipated annual savings are big for the small towns and could exceed $26,000.

On a day earlier this month, 21-year-old Lupe Rodriguez pointed out how crews already had come in and replaced nearly all of the lighting in the Allensworth Community Center. Gone are the T12 florescent lights; in their place are smaller, more energy-efficient T8 lights.

Lupe Rodriguez, who serves on the town’s school board, looks forward to any savings. “Any penny saved is a penny earned,” he said.

Helping schools save money, too

Crews also were busy across the street at Allensworth Elementary School, which has 95 students from preschool to eighth grade. Students attend high school in nearby Delano, because Allensworth doesn’t have one.

Finances always have been tight at the school, but have become worse with the state’s budget crisis. A few years ago, one of the school’s five teachers was laid off.

Robert Cardenas, superintendent of Allensworth Elementary School District, said he was surprised when PG&E representatives asked him for permission to look around to see how the school might save money on utility costs. He said he was hesitant because he thought it was going to cost him something, adding, “Nothing is really free anymore.”

But this was.

Now, he said he hopes to save up to 20 percent on utility costs, which would mean the school could save more than $5,000 a year.

PG&E’s help means a lot to the community and especially the school, Cardenas said.

He added, “I can use that savings to purchase additional materials for the classroom, for the children.”

This story originally appeared on pgecurrents.com.