Just Another Reason to BBQ

No matter how old, your home appliances use a great deal of electricity. While they are more energy efficient than even 5 or 10 years ago. Even the most energy efficient appliances and electronics account for 20% of the average household energy bill. So, stop using them and fire up the grill.

We have finally shoveled our lawns, many are breaking out the BBQ.     If you haven’t…what are you waiting for? Baseball  and softball season is underway.  The days are  longer.  Do we really need another reason to BBQ?  How about saving money?

For every hour you use your oven  (at 350 degrees) it costs about  .20 cents.    Microwaving those steamed veggies for 2 minutes will add .07 cents to your power bill.     Boiling water on your electric stove top will set you back  .11 cents. By using the convection oven for 30 minutes will add a whopping .10 cents to your power bill.

No matter how old, your home appliances use a great deal of electricity. While they are more energy efficient than even 5 or 10 years ago.  Even the most energy efficient appliances and electronics account for 20% of the average household energy bill.

Get out of the kitchen and instead use the grill.     Unless you are a gourmet,  everything tastes better on the grill.  In addition even grilling is getting greener.

There has been considerable debate about which is “greener” charcoal or propane for grilling.      Energy efficient grills are all the rage.  Which ever your preference (charcoal or propane),  using  grills that retain the most heat will reduce how much fuel you have to use.    Consider  a ceramic grill-check out the Grilldome!

There are even a host of environmentally friendly  BBQ briquettes available.     Try coconut briquettes or natural wood briquettes.

What ever your  choice of fuel for grilling, after this long, cold winter, we deserve a good BBQ.  Our spring and summer is too short to not take advantage of  all the outside family time we can get.  So enjoy.

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Community Volunteerism

Unplugged and Involved. How I Embraced Volunteerism.

Since being back in Maine I attend more events, volunteer and explore my community. Being blessed to work for a company that embraces volunteerism and community certainly helps. Disconnecting from technology, volunteering more and networking has helped me to connect in ways I never imagined.
Taking time to disconnect from technology can help us connect in other ways.

How many of you remember a childhood without computers and other electronic devices?   While I was growing up, at our house, we had one giant, old school computer in our house that the whole family shared; it wasn’t until I turned 13 that I really knew how to use it. For me, in the early years computers weren’t much more than glorified word processors. Today many schools give laptops to every 6th grader.

The Internet wasn’t worth the wait. It took about 10 minutes to load a page. Today-information takes milliseconds to pass from place to place.

As for cell phones, I didn’t get my first flip phone until I was 15. No texting, no camera, and only to be used for emergency purposes. You know what? I didn’t mind the limited access to a computers and cell phone. I didn’t give it a second thought. I was busy doing other things, like spending time outside, talking face-to-face with actual people, and, gasp, using the land line to get a hold of my friends.

Today, we have an endless number of these devices right at our fingertips. Now, I am not saying that that is a bad thing. Technological advances are great and important for personal and business needs. However, I do think that my generation (hello, 90s babies!) and especially younger generations need to learn some time management skills. To be more specific, we need to manage to make time for more face- to- face interaction with other people.
Instead of meeting and chatting with people online, we should try to make more of a conscious effort to meet new people out in the community, or by joining groups that spark our interest. Having trouble putting down the cell phone? Perhaps this will help or inspire you.

Here’s the journey I started two years ago (and it really helped).

Growing up I was very shy, preferring to sit in my room and watch TV then go out and really socialize. This continued through high school and even college. I got by, but I  also knew I wanted to be successful in the business world. Being shy just wasn’t going to cut it. So, in the spring of 2013, I made a change and decided to do something about it and push my limits.

I flew all the way around the world to Australia (where I knew no one) to participate in a Study Abroad program for four months. I literally had to disconnect myself from all technology for the first two weeks of the trip, and it turned out to be two of the best weeks of my life. Granted, for those weeks, I was busy being a tourist with my new found friends. Being away from the computer and phone really made me think about the importance of putting myself out there, exploring the community and people around me. From there on out, I elected to not have a cell phone during the four month period. The only technology I had was a computer and spotty Wi-Fi. Since I was hardly ever in my room, I hardly missed a thing.

volunteer
While in Australia I had the opportunity to volunteer at the 2013 Association of Surfing Professionals World Championships.

While in Australia I volunteered at a few different events. I met a ton of new people, had real conversations, and learned that putting yourself out there – whether it’s volunteering or civic engagement – is one of the most fulfilling things a person can do.

Since being back in Maine I’ve made it a point to explore my community more. I attend more events, and volunteer when I have the time. Currently, I am part of a volunteer group called YPLAA, where we plan events in our community to bring professionals together to network and have fun.

Here at Provider Power employees are encouraged to volunteer, even on company time. We are providing numerous opportunities to interact with non-profit groups, and get hands on experience with these organizations. Volunteerism is part of the corporate culture here.

Last summer I volunteered with one of the Electricity Maine Power To Help partners, St. Mary’s Nutrition Center, where I helped kids learn about and cook nutritious meals    As a company we are active with the United Way of Androscoggin County, regularly participating in their Day of Caring.

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With volunteers, staff and some of the families served by the St. Mary's Nutrition Center of Maine. Photo courtesy St. Mary's Nutrition Center of Maine.

I am blessed to work for a company that values the importance of volunteerism and networking. I’ve met more people in the past two years than I have at any other point before that, and the rewards are endless. Volunteering and helping others, while putting myself out there and exposing my vulnerabilities has helped me to personally grow and gain a new level of confidence.

My point is this. Taking time to disconnect from technology can help us connect in other ways. Freeing your mind free from cell phone notifications and social media updates can and is a good thing. It is good for our own personal growth, as well as the growth of the community we are in. Don’t get me wrong, I see the irony in writing this in a blog. So, when you are done reading this, I encourage shut down your computer, and put down the phone. You will be glad you did.

A sign posted at an animal preserve in Australia.
A sign posted at an animal preserve in Australia.

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We Agree. Read the Fine Print

Legislative efforts in New Hampshire to make electricity buying for consumers should be embraced.

The following appeared in the New Hampshire Union Leader-March 19, 2015

Dave Solomon’s Power Plays: When it comes to utility mailings, read the fine print
DAVE SOLOMON

Competition in the sale of electricity has been a fact of life for New Hampshire’s residential consumers for the past three years, yet confusion persists in the market.

Many customers are still getting stuck with high-priced variable rates after their fixed-rate contacts expire.
Complaints to the Public Utilities Commission and to state lawmakers prompted two bills in the state Legislature this year designed to enhance consumer protections and rein in questionable marketing practices by some competitive electricity suppliers.

The House bill, HB 345, would have created a consumer bill of rights, eliminating the ability of a utility to cut-off service for non-payment of an energy supply charge. That bill failed on a voice vote in the House on March 4.

A bill in the Senate, SB 170, would require the Public Utilities Commission to redesign the billing format for residential electric bills and the PUC website so that key information for consumers will jump out and hit them on the head. It’s called “conspicuous notification.”

That bill is still alive, and is likely to pass after getting an “ought to pass” recommendation on March 12 by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. It has bipartisan support with 12 senators signed on as cosponsors, and is scheduled for a floor vote today, March 19.

In addition to mandating changes to the billing format for electricity customers and improvements to the PUC website, it puts some teeth into PUC enforcement of the competitive electricity market, authorizing regulators to assess fines, rescind contracts, order restitution and revoke the registration of any competitive electricity supplier “found to have engaged in any unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the marketing, sale or solicitation of electricity supply or related services.”

Defining unfair or deceptive practices is not going to be easy, because some competitive suppliers know how to exploit the confusion in the market with promotional materials that walk a fine line between deceptive and unclear.

While testifying in support of SB 170 back in January, the attorney who represents consumers before the PUC, Susan Chamberlin, pointed out just how confusing it can be.

“I’ve seen disclosures provided by at least one competitive supplier that say, ’OK after your fixed rate expires, this will go to the rate determined by the ISO-New England,’ ” she said. “That’s not completely inaccurate, but it’s not completely accurate either. ISO doesn’t regulate the rate, they simply monitor the market, and the market can have a variable rate that goes up to 100 percent more than what you are paying.”

A mailed solicitation from North American Power that went out last month triggered some confusion. Here’s how Rosemary Marshall of Hollis described the North American mailing.

“I received information from PSNH reflecting North American Power as the option for a change to our energy supplier. Have there been any complaints regarding their fixed rate?”

That mailing did not come from PSNH. I got the same mailing. It’s easy to see why someone would think it comes from PSNH. It says “Attention PSNH customers, First Notice,” and has PSNH all over it, but it was from North American, whose logo is inconspicuously placed in the lower right hand corner of the page. The key details of the offer are in microscopic print at the bottom of the back page.

North American has actually been one of the more stable companies in competitive supply. One company, Glacial Energy, had people going door to door representing themselves as PSNH employees.

A new entrant into the market, Ambit Energy, uses an Amway-style network marketing system that will soon have your friends and neighbors telling you what a great deal they can get you on your PSNH bill, which may be technically true, but not entirely accurate.

Regarding Rosemary’s question about complaints, I checked with Amanda Noonan, director of consumer affairs at the PUC, who provided complaint data from June 1 of last year to Feb. 20, regarding the two major competitive suppliers in the state — ENH Power with more than 40,000 customers, and North American, with about 35,000.

The PUC got 21 complaints about ENH, and 101 about North American. What accounts for the difference? Here’s what Noonan had to say:

“ENH Power offers only fixed price energy products to its customers. A few weeks before the end date of the contract, ENH communicates to its customers that the contract will be ending and offers a new fixed price, fixed term contract. The communication tells the customer what the price is and what to do if they want or don’t want to continue with ENH”

“North American Power offers fixed priced energy products to its customers as well. It also communicates to its customers a few weeks before the end date of the contract, notifying customers that the contract will be ending. The communication tells the customer what to do if they want or don’t want to continue with North American.”

“It also notifies the customers that if they do nothing, they will be placed on North American Power’s variable price service. The notice does not tell the customer what that service will be priced at, most likely because the price is not yet known. For those customers that do nothing, the variable price service can be considerably higher in the winter months than the fixed-price service.”

Bottom line: Read the fine print.

– See more at: http://www.unionleader.com/article/20150319/NEWS02/150318919/0/SEARCH#sthash.PyFfl8kh.dpuf

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Capitalists with Heart

Sharks and Killer Charities

What happens when you have so much money, all the possessions, and all the homes you could want, but you want out of the tank? The answer for some is to invest in non-profits.
Shark Tank is an American reality television series that premiered August 9, 2009 on ABC.

Shark Tank, you’ve probably seen the TV show. Contestants try to make business presentation to a panel of business “shark” investors. The “sharks”, who by the way get compensated very well for their participation, invest their own money (or not) in these budding business ventures.

The concept, not a unique one, is a spin-off of the Japanese TV show Dragon’s Den (originally named Money Tigers) is also on T.V. in Ireland, Canada, UK and New Zealand.

In Maine there is even interest in doing a local version of the show-local entrepreneurs investing in the next great Maine product or business. No matter the state or country, the premise very much the same-success is based on how much money is made.

But what happens when you have so much money, all the possessions, and all the homes you could want, but you want out of the tank?  The answer for some is to invest in non-profits.

The Boston Globe is reporting that multi-millionaire Todd Dagres is organizing a “Shark-Tank” style competition that rewards the charities best able to withstand the wrath of prospective investors. Non-profits will pitch their mission to investors. Investors can vet the plans and elect to fund them and perhaps advise the organizations. According to the Globe article, the goal is to bring financial and management stability to groups who could benefit society. Dagres plans to invest up to $100,000 of his own money (by the way he reportedly made 50 million between 1999 and 2003).

Todd Dagres is a Founder and General Partner of Spark Capital.
Todd Dagres is a Founder and General Partner of Spark Capital.

“I am looking for a category of success that goes beyond financial and into doing good work.” – Todd Dagres

We know the “what” and the “who”, but “why”?

Dagres is going the route of venture philanthropy:  using the same tools, ideas and ideals that go into venture capital funding to promote growth of social ventures.  He is quoted this way, “I am looking for a category of success that goes beyond financial and into doing good work.”

The idea is also to counter act the large, well-funded non-profits, these “category-killer” charities that are “sucking up much attention and so much money they’re making it difficult for other emerging non-profits” to get attention and money.

Here at Provider Power many of our employees sit on non-profit boards, and volunteer (on and off company time) with countless non-profit organizations. Through our Power To Help initiative we help raise funds for non-profits and support them with other assets (people power) to help them accomplish their goals. Our ownership group embraces the notion of leaving a social legacy.

There is still an important role for well-heeled business leaders to sit on boards of non-profits and make their customary, yearly financial contribution. What Dagres (and others) are recognizing is that success can be measured in many ways. Extravagant homes, gas guzzling cars and trips to Bora Bora are nice-but leaving a social legacy and making a difference can make sticking your feet in tropical waters feel all that much better.

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Repair It or Replace It – What’s the Most Energy-Efficient Choice?

We’ve all been there—gazing woefully at a washing machine that’s stopped spinning, or a refrigerator that’s lost its cool. But, how do you decide whether to repair it or replace it? Here are some crucial things to consider.

We’ve all been there—gazing woefully at a washing machine that’s stopped spinning, or a refrigerator that’s lost its cool. You dutifully call your repair shop and wait for the verdict. And when the estimate comes in, you have to make the expensive choice of whether you are throwing good money after bad by paying to fix the appliance, or whether it’s time to cut your losses and buy a new one.

Here are four questions to ask to help you answer the Repair or Replace conundrum:

How old is the appliance  

This is the key factor for two reasons:

  • What is the expected life of the appliance? In other words, how long can your existing piece realistically be expected to last after the repair, and
  • An even more important factor: how energy efficient is it? Energy savings alone can help justify replacing some appliances that aren’t working as they should. As just one example, if all refrigerators sold in the United States were ENERGY STAR certified, the energy cost savings would top $400 million each year, and prevent eight billion pounds of annual greenhouse gas emissions—equivalent to the emissions from 750,000 vehicles.

Is it a quick fix?

It’s surprising how many repairs can be diagnosed and fixed easily by doing some research and watching a how-to video. RepairClinic.com is a great source for DIY-ers, and you’d be surprised how much intel you can find on YouTube as well.

What is the incremental cost of the repair?

Spending $600 to repair the motherboard of a refrigerator that would cost $1,000 to replace might not be the best use of money. It’s painful, but if spending $400 dollars will extend the life of the appliance by 10 years, rather than two, it will be money well saved. A good rule of thumb is not to spend more than 50 percent of the cost of a new product on repairing the old one. And, if this is a subsequent repair, think twice before repairing at all.

What will happen to your existing appliance?

Don’t just tote it to the landfill – when you purchase a new appliance, the store typically will take your old one away and recycle it in an environmentally friendly way. They often reuse many of the parts, so you know that your piece is being repurposed. Thinking about sticking your old fridge in the garage? You might not want to – [C1] energy hogs have no place in your home. Another option for recycling is to search the database on Earth911.com  which will offer environmentally friendly options based on your zip code.

If you do need to replace, this is your chance to make a wise choice: do your research and consider energy usage as a top factor when you purchase your new appliance. Also, only buy what you need – the more bells and whistles on a piece, the more opportunity for things to break.

Then, once you get it home, ensure that your new appliances perform at their peak by using them in the most energy-efficient manner possible. Conservation is everyone’s job!

 

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Interview with Wide-Open World’s John Marshall

After reading and reviewing the well-written and thoughtful (as well as, thought-provoking) Wide-Open World: How Volunteering Around the Globe Changed One Family’s Lives Forever, I had a few questions for author, John Marshall. He graciously answered the questions that I sent him via email.

Marshall is a nine-time Emmy Award-winning writer, producer, and director. Mainers will recognize him from seeing him on local television stations, like WPXT and from his work writing and hosting a number of weekly television programs. Wide-Open World is Marshall’s first book.

How does a family know if they have what it takes for a journey like this? Were there any contingency plans in case you found out after four weeks that you and your family weren’t cut out for it?

For any family considering their own Wide-Open World adventure, you can always start small. Add a few days of volunteering to your next vacation and see how it goes. Most importantly, get every family member on board before you ship out. Dragging someone on a trip like this will not produce the best results. In our case, once we got the kids to buy into the idea, we committed to a six-month journey. The truth is…there were several times on the road that our kids asked to go home; difficult homesick times where a comfy bed, a hot shower, or a familiar face was all they wanted. Without a real commitment at the start, it would have been all too easy to pack it in at the first challenging stop along the way. For me, the length of the trip was as important as the individual volunteer opportunities, allowing the world enough time to have a deep impact on us all.

As a follow-up, are there certain types of people/families that are better suited for an adventure like this one? Any kind of prerequisites that you’d say help prepare you to take off for six months or more?

The #1 prerequisite is simply your decision to go. Not a passive dream of going or a desire to maybe get out the door one day, but your ironclad, set in stone, decision to hit the road. Once you make this decision, you can find a way to make a trip like this happen. As for prerequisites or certain types of people who might enjoy this kind of travel…it helps to be flexible. Things go wrong on the road. Buses are slow and uncomfortable. Accommodations are less than stellar. Where we went it was hot most of the time. One day in Thailand it was 125 degrees! And there are bugs and simple meals and toilets of every conceivable variety. If you are looking to judge every situation by Western standards and prefer room service to actual service, this might not be for you. That said, there is a world of difference between comforting a crying orphan and tipping your favorite bartender. So if you can be flexible, the rewards we discovered far outweighed the challenges.

Would you say that for most of us, getting outside of our “cocoon” in any type of fashion for an extended period helps change how we see the rest of the world? What was the biggest “aha” moment for you in that regard?

I think it’s easy to forget, at a very basic level, that we are alive. That our time is passing quickly. The routines of life are very hypnotic. They put us to sleep, in many ways. But travel is the opposite of routine. Every day is new. Every new experience requires your full attention. So this is one powerful reminder we discovered on the road. Additionally, volunteering in the developing world is a jolt of reality. It’s easy to sit at home and talk about the poor, to be sad in a general sense about world hunger or global poverty. But when I actually met real people who are poor and hungry…they were not what I was imagining. As for “aha” moments…orphaned children had the most profound impact on me. Before leaving home, I thought of them as some general, faceless mass of regrettable humanity. But when I got to know them, one on one, as children, it’s impossible for me to return home and live as if they do not exist.

I thought you did a good job of portraying your children, not as saints, but as typical suburban, middle-class kids, privileged compared to the children you met on your trip. You touched on it a bit at the end of the book, but how have Jackson and Logan continued to build on the experiences detailed in the book?

Yeah, a trip like ours can have a powerful impact on teenagers, and we certainly saw that in our kids. Our son Logan was 17 at the time and our daughter Jackson was 14. Today, Jackson is in college, studying to be a doctor and hopes to be a part of the Doctors Without Borders program, serving in the developing world. Logan has spent several years in South America, learning Spanish, volunteering and writing a blog about finding your inner superhero. Before the trip, they were already great kids and motivated people, but I feel the Wide-Open World experience magnified their best qualities and opened their hearts a little bit wider.

What were the deciding factors in traveling around the world, rather than picking a few locations, or even staying stateside?

Traveling around the world is a dream. It’s one of those long-shot bucket list items that a lot of people write down but few people ever actually do. Like running a marathon or bungee jumping in Australia. Wouldn’t it be amazing? For us, we were motivated to make it happen and so we went. But we are nothing special in that regard. If you’re interested in how to make a trip like this happen for you and your family, I wrote a chapter at the back of the book on how to volunteer your way around the world. Truly, if we can do it, so can you. If it feels like too much, try a two-week volunteer vacation and see if it doesn’t touch your heart. Or volunteer in your own neighborhood. In many ways, I believe volunteering is almost selfish because you receive so much more than you give. As I say at the end of the book: You will not change the world. But the world will definitely change you.

I understand that you’ve gone back and spent time in India at the orphanage you wrote about in the book. What was it about that place that drew you back?

I went back to India, thinking I would volunteer my way around the country, maybe write about it as a follow up book. But I ended up very sick at the start and went back to the The Good Shepherd Agricultural Mission (a large orphanage on the Nepal border), which was the only place where I actually knew people. Once there, it was the kids who really nursed me back to health, and I ended up spending most of 2014 living with them. From terrible beginnings and hopeless situations, these kids are now filled with incredible joy and an infectious love that is hard to describe. It was so inspiring to me in fact, I’ve launched a non-profit called New Orphanage that looks to find and support the best orphan projects worldwide. I also hope to have my next book be about my time at the orphanage. Like Wide-Open World, I hope it helps readers see the difference one person can make in the world. And the difference the world can make in each of our lives.

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Future Cost of Electricity Appears Higher-ENH Power Weighs In

Forward capacity markets, or the insurance we pay to make sure power plants supply power will be going up dramatically. The impact on consumers will likely be significant.

Forward Capacity Market, one of those geeky energy terms that outside of the world of electricity generation or electricity supply, few know what it is.   Here is a simplified definition:  Forward Capacity Market = direct investment a few years ahead of when electricity needs to be delivered.  Power plants receive compensation for capacity, or the power that they will provide at some point in the future.

This insurance policy has a significant impact on the price we all pay for electricity.

For New Hampshire, these costs are going up.  Way up.  Doubling and tripling over the next 4 years.   ENH Power co-owner Emile Clavet is quoted in a 3/15/15 article in the New Hampshire Union Leader.  “What you are seeing is the cost of insuring our energy supply.  We’re paying for the insurance of knowing we are going to have the capacity to meet a growing demand.”

These costs represent about 10 percent of the ENH energy supply charges to consumers. That could rise to 20 percent in 2017 and 30 percent in 2018.

According to the Union Leader article, The collective cost to ratepayers of securing this “future capacity” has been around $1 billion a year since 2010. That cost holds through 2016. But when 2017 rolls around, it shoots up to $3 billion and in 2018 will hit $4 billion.

ENH Power along with Electricity Maine and Provider Power Mass is part of New England owned Provider Power family of companies.

Provider Power has saved residents millions of dollars while also doing business locally, educating people about energy saving opportunities, and supporting nearly 100 New England non-profits through the Power to Help Fund.

Our mission is to educate customers that their energy choices matter.  To learn more visit providerpower.com.

 

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