Living Sustainably: Energy-saving “silver linings” can be found during COVID crisis

By Ken Freestone, City of Holland
Have you ever thought about working or studying from home? Yes? Now everybody has! Now that we all have been home way more than we expected, and we are entering heating season, what lessons about the health of our home, family, and energy efficiency have we learned? And what might usage data show for comparison between 2019 and 2020 and the future?
With so many people working, studying, and even gathering (virtually) from home, our new routines are teaching us valuable lessons. My most valuable lesson from being home? How healthy, safe and energy efficient my home is and how much more I can still improve.
Being at home may also have given us insights that can inform our conversations locally about the Community Energy Plan and other local energy efficiency initiatives for the City of Holland – topics of a virtual meeting coming up Monday evening.
Here are some key energy saving targets to consider at home: More devices running most of the day.
Lights on in typically vacant rooms. TV’s and game consoles running more. Maybe even space heater use or increased air conditioning.

We can see that stay-home habits are having an impact: The average increase for electrical usage in Holland for the April to June period was 17 percent. Across the country, residential electricity use has shown increases ranging from 18 to 50 percent. Gas usage has been down overall globally, but we are just now entering our heating season.
Another startling realization for me came from a recent webinar series by Mark Jewell, an author and speaker on the energy sector. Jewell illustrated that money we spend personally on utilities is “after tax” money. Expenses that were previously covered at your workplace is now money you are spending personally. So, it makes sense to work to limit that energy expense.
On a positive note, the COVID-19 impact may illustrate some “silver linings” of energy efficiency possibilities for all city residents through incentives, grants and rebates.
From Sept.1 through Dec. 31, 2020, all City of Holland homeowners (including landlords of up to four-plex buildings) have access to a 20 percent grant towards energy efficiency projects that could include insulation, heating/cooling/water heaters, appliances, and windows.
Also, there are still rebates available from the Holland Board of Public Works and SEMCO, and SEMCO is also offering bonus rebates for many energy efficiency upgrades.
The city also offers a free resource for getting more information about energy efficiency upgrades by contacting Ken Freestone, residential energy advisor at or (616)355-1364.
Visit for information on rebates.
Another way for area residents to learn about opportunities for energy saving is to attend the next Living Sustainably Along the Lakeshore event, a virtual Community Energy Plan Conversation at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 13.
Speakers will present updates on greenhouse gas emissions for the city and will provide updates about the strategic development team review of the City of Holland Community Energy Plan. They also will offer tips and resources for energy efficiency for homeowners. Register for the event at
We know that there are numerous challenges with COVID-19 and with the impacts of climate change. At the same time, City of Holland residents and our neighbors have unique opportunities for “silver linings” to create a better energy future.
 Ken Freestone is the residential energy advisor for the City of Holland. He can be reached at or 616.355.1364.

This Week’s Sustainability Framework Theme
Smart Energy: We need to use both conservation and efficiency measures to manage our resources to provide access to reliable and cost-effective energy.

As home energy use has increased with more at-home activities because of COVID, energy efficiency incentives and rebates like insulation or caulking can have an even bigger positive impact.
December 18, 2013 – Julian Gonzalez with Long’s Peak Energy Conservation, blows insulation into Cathy Schultheis’ attic in Niwot, Colorado. (Photo by Dennis Schroeder / NREL)
A virtual meeting Monday evening about the Community Energy Plan will include tips on home energy efficiency measures, like insulation or smart thermostats, and incentives to implement them.