After Richard M. Crawford of Oxon Hill filled out a Potomac Electric Power Co. "energy audit" questionnaire, he received a computer printout listing the energy-saving improvements that would best suit his house.
The printout listed what each improvement - such as attic insulation - would cost and how much Crawford could expect to save by installing it. "It was very useful," he said. "It confirmed some of my suspicions and also gave me some prices [showing] when an [energy-saving] installation would pay for itself."
Although everyone contacted by a reporter seemed enthusiastic about the audits, Pepco has performed them for only 2,000 of its 424,000 residential customers in the 10 months that the program has been in effect, a company spokesman said.
"We're a little reluctant to tell the whole world because we're afraid we'd get flooded [with requests for audits]," said E. J. Ryan, Pepco's manager of energy applications. ". . . We have started to publicize it on a controlled basis. We ask people to write, not call - that screens it a little."
Under the new national energy legislation that passed Congress last week, however, Pepco and other utilities are required to expand their energy audit programs and other measures to help customers save energy and cut monthly utility bills.
The legislation requires utilities to "offer to inspect" homes to point out specific energy-saving measures and the savings homeowners can expect from them.
The utilities must also serve as "project managers" for homeowners who want to install insulation and other energy-savers. The utilities must "arrange to have the suggested measures installed" and then "arrange for a lender to make a loan" to cover the costs.
Customers may pay off the loans on their monthly utility bills, and their service cannot be cut off if they default.
State regulatory agencies are given authority by the legislation to decide if costs for the audits and other "project management" work will be billed to the homeowners directly involved or shared by all the utility's customers.
Federal and local officials must make rules interpreting the new legislation, which is expected to go into effect sometime in 1980.
While Pepco's energy audit program provides lists of acceptable contractors and financing institutions, the company makes no effort now to "arrange" installation of financing of energy-saving measures for customers.
And while customers can request to have a "professional audit" by a Pepco representative who comes to their homes, only 800 of the 2,000 audits performed so far have been done this way. The professional audits cost $25, while audits based on questionaires filled out by the homeowners are free.
"If we've got to do it then we've got to do it," said Pepco senior vice president Paul Dragoumis of the "project manager" requirements. Dragoumis said it is not clear yet what "arrange" installation and loans may mean.
"It could be more than paperwork, but it depends on the interpretation," he said ". . . you're left with very many questions about how [the legislation] will be implemented."
It will "obviously be a burden" for Pepco if the company must increase its staff in order to conduct home energy audits on a widespread basis, Dragoumis said.
A spokesman for the Virginia Electric and power Co. said it, too, is studying the impact of the legislation. Vepco now tries to "stimulate" its large commercial and industrial customers "to do an energy audit themselves," the spokesman said, but has no homeowner's program like Pepco's.
Ryan said it costs Pepco quite a bit more than $25 a visit to make its professional energy audits - one reason the company is not making an all-out effort to publicize them.
The representative who visits the house spends about an hour diagramming each floor and nothing all pertincut features - such as window size and current insulation levels.
The same information is provided by the questionaire. Ryan said, but the company inspector gets more detail and educates the homeowner by informally chatting with him. Homeowners are sent computer printouts whether they fill out the questionaire or have an inspector come.
Pepco's audit program was developed along guidelines in the National Energy Watch program of the Edison Electric Institute, the lobbying organization for the electric utility industry.
The 130 utilities, including Pepco, which subscribe to the NEW program must promote suggested energy-saving and home audit measures. Each utility tailors its program to its needs.
There is a strong public relations element in the NEW program. Homeowners who fill out small questionaires (not the full home audit questionaires) can qualify as "members in good standing of the National Energy Watch" if their homes are energy-efficient.
They get a certificate and a window sticker to prove it.
Pepco sent 424,000 pamphlets to its residential customers with the little questionaires asking people to "join the National Energy Watch." Pepco also ran four weeks of commercials on 12 radio stations on the same theme.
In response, the company received 1,300 answers. Only 220 of these qualified for membership in NEW.
"The response was not as high as we anticipated," said Ryan.
Edison Electric Institute officers say they started NEW just before President Carter's April 20, 1977, unveiling of his proposed energy legislation. It was part of an institute effort to limit the impact of the proposals on utility companies.
"This anticipated the legislation," said W. Donham Crawford, now chairman of Gulf States Utilities and who was EEI president at the time National Energy Watch was born. "There was a lot of interest in conversation after the oil embargo . . . so it just seemed to us that this is something the country needs, why don't we provide leadership here . . . Of course we had in mind in something along this line was not done them you'd have a mandated program from the government."
Crawford said the original Carter proposals had "a lot more of a mandatory approach" than their final version. "The utilities can certainly do the inspection and provide a Haison to help the customers along. The version of the bill that's come out is pretty much on a voluntary basis and we think we can live with it," he said.
Jefferey Serfass, the DOE official in charge of writing the federal rules that will interpret the utility conversation portion of the new legislation, said. "It is definitely not voluntary for utilities. It is mandatory for utilities . . . The only possible rationale for [Crawford's] kind of a loose interpretation is [that] it's difficult to define what the utility 'arranging' function is."
Serfass added. "It's voluntary on the part of the customer. All the utilities have to do is 'offer' [to inspect and audit]. It's voluntary in that sense."
The new legislation requires utilities to notify customers of the newly available energy audit and "project manager" services within 60 days of completion of the rulemaking process, Serfass said.
"Clearly there's no way a utility can handle the barrage of requests that might generate," he said. It is not clear how this problem will be handled.
D.C. People's Counsel Brian Lederer who represents consumers in utility matters, said the current Pepco program is "small, just public image stuff. If it's going to be a serious program, it's got to fit into [Pepco's] financial and construction plans. What difference does it make to people if you promote conservation that reduces company revenues in ways that cause the company to seek rate increases."
The enthusiasm of people who have had the Pepco energy audits, however is strong.
Kathryn Froelich of Wheaton paid $25 to have a professional audit and thinks it was "worth it. It gives you a better feel for where your money goes."
Froelich said the Pepco representative was "very careful, checking how the aluminum siding was put on, going through the basement, checking the windows to measure their area . . . " the windows to measure their area . . . "
A few weeks after the inspection Froelich received her computer printout and was able to see that some major energy-saving measures would not be cost-effective for her to install.
For example, she said, she learned that it would take 15 years for her to recover the cost through lower utility bills of adding additional attic insulation. She also uses the attic for storage now, which she could not do if more insulation were added because "you couldn't walk on it."
Froelich said she would probably follow another recommendation - to insulate her basement ceiling - because the printout told her that the payback period would be short.
She said the printout contained lists of recommended contractors and financing institutions but, "I think I can do it cheaper than [the audit] said. I'll have someone in the family do it for me."
Crawford, the Oxon Hill man who filled out his own questionnaire, said he is now thinking about which suggested energy-saving measures to install.
"I [have] an all-electric house [and] some bills have been $300 a month so I had a little impetus to do something," he said. "When somebody slaps you in the fare with a bill like that you pay attention when they try and save you some money."