Celilo Village is a small community of Columbia Gorge residents approximately 10 miles east of The Dalles, Oregon, near the mouth of the Deschutes River. Most residents of Celilo Village are members of either the Yakama Nation or the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.
When the gates of The Dalles Dam were closed in 1957, subsequent flooding of the Celilo area brought an end to 9,000 years of tribal fishing life at Celilo Falls. This led to nearly 50 years of substandard replacement housing and a lasting, negative impact on Native American inhabitants and their way of life.
After decades of failed negotiations, an agreement was solidified in 2006 between the Army Corps of Engineers and Celilo community members to build a tribal long house for gathering and ceremonies. By 2009, 15 permanent two-, three- and four- bedroom homes were completed on the 100-acre parcel of land. These modern, fully insulated dwellings are built on slab foundations and equipped with marginally efficient heat pumps, a small wood stove, vinyl-framed windows and many, multi-bulb light fixtures. While the construction of these new homes was a huge step forward in the reparation process, years of poverty, lack of energy consumption and efficiency outreach and geographic separation have taken a toll on the underserved community of Celilo Village.
The NWCPUD Energy Management Department recently noticed a disproportionate number of residents struggling to keep their bills manageable. During the first outreach visit to Celilo Village in mid-2018, we learned that many of the outdoor heat pump compressors had prematurely failed due to lack of maintenance and manufacturer warranty expiration. Once these systems fail, they no longer provide affordable heating to families, necessitating the use of the costly “emergency heat” furnace function.
A backup heating method for these customers is a centrally located wood stove, which requires firewood to fuel a powerful heat source located at the entrance to the hallway in an open living room. Most of the wood stoves no longer have original features such as glass in the doors, rope seal, or handles, and are not being used. In some instances, the wood stove units have been completely removed due to health and safety concerns. All of these issues sent a strong message to the PUD that this community needed substantial support sooner rather than later.
During the appointment for their initial Energy Efficiency Assessment, longtime Celilo residents Fred and Karen mentioned that in addition to repairing their failed heat pump, they struggled with the constant replacement of lightbulbs in the home. Additionally, it was noted that the original fixtures installed were outfitted with 75-watt incandescent bulbs and few had been upgraded. After discussing the advancements in LED bulb technology, the Whitfords began to grasp what the cost of simply lighting these homes could cost with approximately 30 incandescent lightbulbs per home. Needless to say, we put this measure on the top of our list to tackle next.
During the next nine months, several residents took part in NWCPUD’s Energy Efficiency Upgrade Program and were eligible to add a ductless heat pump, replace broken windows and exterior doors, and install a heat pump water heater. In conjunction with this homeowner upgrade program, our team also worked with members of Efficiency Services Group Inc. to design a free direct-install lighting upgrade program for all NWCPUD customers.
With the help of John Macapagal, ESG energy efficiency manager, every Celilo Village home was upgraded or supplied with lumen-equivalent, 9W LED lightbulbs, water-saving showerheads and a smart power strip in one very upbeat, powerful day of connection and support. All Celilo Village residents were enthusiastic. Many homeowners opted into the Direct Install program, which allows us to install all replacements. This single day of service and outreach should provide an estimated 15,560 kWh savings per year for this community.
While lower monthly bills, increased energy efficiency consciousness, and a brighter outlook are powerful customer benefits in their own right, these valuable programs have also inspired residents to be more hands-on with unit upkeep and home maintenance. Increased awareness and communication between this marginalized community and NWCPUD allows for a quicker response to abnormalities in use, fewer future disconnects due to non-pay, and provides a sense of empowered connection with a compassionate utility. The NWCPUD looks forward to continuing to serve Celilo Village residents and all of our communities with energy efficiency programs that positively impact the lives of our customer owners for years to come.