Wonder watt’s watt? Check out a meter

Rachel Hanson, promotions coordinator at the Mesa County Libraries, opens a Power Check kit that includes a meter that measures how much electricity — and money — it takes to operate appliances and electronic devices. The kits are available to check out to quantify energy use and calculate the savings available from newer, more efficient products. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Ever wonder how much electricity that aging refrigerator consumes? What about the computer? And how much savings could be realized by replacing old appliances with new, more efficient models?

A program offered through the Mesa County Libraries encourages people to literally check out a meter to find out the answers to those and other questions.

The response has been pronounced and immediate. Within days of launching the Power Check program near the end of July, all 30 meters had been checked and a list had formed for those waiting to get one.

“They were gone. People just took advantage of it,” said Jennifer Murrell, an adult services librarian at the main branch in Grand Junction.

The Power Check program is a collaborative effort involving Xcel Energy,  the City of Grand Junction and Mesa County Libraries.

Xcel supplies the meter kits as part of a program available in Colorado and four other states. A group of city employees called Conserving Our Resources Efficiently (CORE) requested the kits from Xcel to make them available through the libraries. The CORE group works to monitor and promote energy and water conservation as well as waste and pollution reduction in city operations.

Rachel Hanson, promotions coordinator at the Mesa County Libraries, said a total of 30 kits are available from all branches. Six more kits are being prepared for checkout at six other Marmot Library Network libraries, which also can be checked out by anyone with a Mesa County Libraries card. The kits are like books, Hanson said, in that they can be checked out for two weeks at a time.

Those who don’t already have a library card can quickly obtain one, she said.

Power Check kits are packaged in what resemble plastic lunch boxes and include a watt meter that can be used with any standard, 120-volt appliance or electronic device. The meter plugs into a wall socket, while the device plugs into the meter.

The meter determines how much electricity the devices uses as well as calculates how much it costs to operate the device on a daily and monthly basis.

The meter also detects energy “vampires” — devices that suck down electricity even when they’re switched off.

The kits also include a USB cable and software to download information to a computer. It’s then possible to create graphs and charts as well as determine how long it would take to pay for a newer, more-efficient model given the savings associated with that device.

A booklet that comes with the kit is printed in English and Spanish.

Hanson said the kits enable people to make informed decisions about their energy use and budgets. They also can decide how best to conserve energy, whether it’s using certain appliances less or replacing them.

Given that about 56,000 people have cards to check out materials from the Mesa County Libraries, Hanson said it makes sense to offer Power Check kits through the libraries.

But the program also fits in with other conservation efforts at the libraries, she said.

In addition to using “green” cleaning products and reusable coffee filters, the libraries shut off computers at night to reduce electrical use. The libraries participate in a curbside recycling program as well as recycle various types of plastic.

Mesa County Libraries joined with the City of Grand Junction and Colorado State University Cooperative Extension in establishing a popular community garden in downtown Grand Junction with 20 plots. “We’ve had a lot of good response about that,” Hanson said of the garden.

The Power Check kits have been particularly popular, though, Murrell said. “I think it’s a really positive thing to have and share with people.”

Phil Castle
Business Times