Spurring home energy management

Can every house in Alameda County, which includes the city of Oakland and has a population of more than 1 million, be weatherized by 1985?

''That's a very ambitious goal,'' perhaps an unrealistic one, admits Linda Morse of the Association of Bay Area Governments. ''But it gives us something to shoot at - a strong incentive.''

''Us'' refers to the Alameda County Energy Information Network, an organization that came into being last fall as the result of a project of the San Francisco-based Institute for the Human Environment (IHE). With a $20,000 grant from the US Department of Energy, the nonprofit institute conducted pilot workshops last summer in California's Alameda and San Diego counties and Maricopa County (greater Phoenix), Ariz. Out of these meetings came a report, ''Toward Home Energy Management, a Guide to Community Network Building,'' which can be obtained from the US Government Printing Office.

Michael L. Gordon, energy coordinator for the IHE, explains that the guide illustrates how people and organizations with similar goals can be brought together for ''mutual support, sharing of resources, and collaboration on programs to better manage home energy use.'' It provides a ''model approach . . . for local action in many communities across the nation'' and can also be used ''by groups of communities to combine local networks to form regional networks.''

One thing that sets the IHE workshops apart from many such conferences was avoidance of presentations that tend to put people to sleep rather than goading them into action. But Mr. Gordon acknowledges that no matter how novel the approach success depends on the readiness and ability of paticipants to go back into their communities and put fresh ideas to work.

In these times of tight budgets, funding is a problem everywhere. But while in San Diego and Phoenix the follow-through has not been impressive, the Oakland-Alameda County effort is thriving - and spreading.

Miss Morse says the June 10 and Aug. 5 workshops conducted by IHE in Alameda County last year really brought things together. A loosely knit organization called the Alameda County Energy Information Network has been set up. It is run by a ''steering committee''; its expanding membership holds regular meetings and has set goals - among them the one to weatherize every house by 1985.

Keith Rutledge, director of the Alternative Energy Collective in Oakland, is enthusiastic about what the IHE workshops started. The collective was a going concern well before the institute stepped into the picture. But Mr. Rutledge says ''the IHE timing was excellent. It put people and organizations who need services or can provide help in touch with each other.''

As a result of the workshops, he says, his collective - which provides an education, resource, and self-help center - added 80 names to its mailing list. That's 80 community activists. In Phoenix, Ray Teran of Arizona's state energy office says he found the workshops there (July 7 and 9, 1981) ''very useful. They raised our awareness of how bad our networking system in Maricopa County was, with no coordinated effort.

''Unfortunately, we have seen little result yet. The need is to get neighborhood organizations involved, and this is still very fragmented. The IHE offered to send people back to help with this grass-roots effort, but private or public funds so far are not available to finance this.'' San Diego County has faced very much the same difficulty.

Even in the well-organized Bay Area, lack of funding is a stumbling block. Money for expanding the work in Alameda County was provided in the current state budget, but has been frozen. Gordon says there may be a way to ''thaw'' those funds, however, since they actually originated at the federal level. He hopes eventually to obtain funding for a pilot program in community energy networking in 20 to 30 states.

Bonnie Cornwall is from the California Energy Extension Service, established to ''help people - the poor, elderly, handicapped, etc.'' in existing energy programs. She sees the networks providing a voice for people and communities who have difficulty getting bureaucrats and lawmakers to respond to their needs and efforts.

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