Energy audits in Texas show room for electric bill savings

Imogene Simpson and her husband, James "Buddy" Simpson, a retired Parker County couple of modest means, still haven't paid their $646.68 electric bill that was due to TXU Energy in mid-February.

The Simpsons have protested the bill and questioned the accuracy of their meter, while at the same time accepting an offer by TXU for a free home energy audit, which was conducted Tuesday. Preliminary results of the audit by Irving-based TexEnergy Solutions show that the Simpsons' 2,150-square-foot home in Texas would be far more energy-efficient if the couple had a properly designed heat pump, duct and insulation systems.

Had those systems been in place in January, their electric bill could have been at least $250 lower, estimates Jerold Davis, managing director of TexEnergy Solutions. Davis said the recommended improvements could cost "in the ballpark of $10,000 to $14,000, depending on the efficiency level of the heat pump."

Imogene Simpson said Friday that the couple can't afford to spend that much money. But energy-efficiency and weatherization programs might pay for the improvements, or at least a portion of them.

The Simpsons, who are behind on their electric bills, owed TXU a total of $1,529.47 as of Friday; $705.36 must be paid to keep the power on. But TXU spokeswoman Sophia Stoller said the company will try to "work out a payment plan" with the Simpsons and see whether its Energy Aid program can help.

After an exceptionally cold winter sent North Texans' electricity bills skyrocketing, many might be more open to paying for energy audits and home energy-efficiency improvements. A comprehensive audit might normally cost about $500, but it could bring large savings over time, according to Kerry Hutchison, the TexEnergy project manager who oversaw the audit of the Simpsons' home.

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