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Energy News

Avoid Shams and Scams

Being cynical about that amazing offer can save you money

When it comes to saving energy, the slogan “caveat emptor” (buyer beware) is alive and well. We are all bombarded by claims that border on outright falsehoods from third parties claiming massive savings if you buy their products. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it generally is.

Here are some products and practices that should raise red flags for you:

“Black boxes” claim to clean up power, protect appliances and reduce energy use. Claims are that these improve power quality, smooth out power fluctuations and store energy so you can reduce your bills. They often require an electrician to install.

Save your money. The gains these devices represent are valid goals, but the technologies they employ are already in use by your electric cooperative—and they require utility-sized equipment to deliver them. Something that can fit in a shoebox is not going to provide any value, at least not in the areas promised. If you are concerned about protecting your sensitive appliances and electronics, talk to your co-op’s member services department about surge protection.

When you see an ad that reads, “The power companies don’t want you to know,” skip it. It’s not that we don’t want you to know; we just don’t want you to waste your time and money.

These are generally claims around building your own renewable energy source from parts easily obtained at the local hardware store or a motor that produces limitless free electricity.

You can equate these offers with emails from foreign countries saying you can receive millions of dollars by simply surrendering all your banking information. At least in the case of the limitless motor, you get some cool plans and parts lists—just not the promised results.

There is a product that claims it will replace basement dehumidifiers and save tons of money. It basically is a fan system that vents all the basement air outside. If you have a basement (something of a rarity in much of Texas), this may seem like an attractive option.

The Cooperative Research Network (an arm of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association) was asked a few years ago whether this product delivered on its savings claims. Researchers said, “No.” The problem is that when all the basement air is blown outside, it is replaced with conditioned air from other parts of the house, forcing the home’s HVAC system to work harder and dramatically reducing the promised savings.

Yes, dehumidifiers can be expensive to run and are a nuisance when the water must be emptied. Here’s one solution: Set the basement dehumidifier to 60 percent and run a hose to the floor drain. This resolves the water-emptying hassle and reduces the power use while keeping the basement acceptably dry.

Finally, a different kind of warning: Scammers love to call or stop by, claiming they represent the local power company. Never give personal or financial information to anyone who claims to be an employee from your co-op without confirming their identity. Ask the caller for a callback number, then check with your co-op. Ask the door-to-door person for valid co-op ID credentials. If the person really is a co-op employee, they’ll be able to prove it.

Most of us want to save energy and keep our bills manageable. Technology can help do this, but caution is called for. Call your co-op before making any investments in technology that seem too good to be true. You’ll be glad you did.