The man in University, Ala., was searching for ways to use unconventional energy sources to reduce his electric bills during the long Southern air-conditioning season, which in his part of the country extends into October.
At 2 p.m. one day last week, his quest for information put him in touch with Brad Schepp in Philadelphia.
Schepp was one of four people operating the telephone hot line of the Conservation and Renewable Energy Inquiry and Referral Service, financed by the Energy Department.
The hot line and an associated center for mail inquiries in Rockville, Md., are all that remain of what was formerly called the National Solar Heating and Cooling Information Center.
Until May 21, the information center had for five years received $5 million in government funds annually and employed about 100 people to answer mail and phones, run about 12 conferences a year, prepare publications and mount displays at conventions of bankers, builders, construction workers and architects.
But for the 12 months starting May 22, Energy Department spokesman Jay Vivari said, the center's financing has been reduced to $1.6 million as a result of President Reagan's pledge to reduce the growth of government spending. Vivari explained that even though the federal budget for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 has not been adopted, officials of the various departments are tailoring their spending plans to Reagan's budget proposals. Money for solar programs has been cut by 60 percent, Vivari said. Financing for the Philadelphia program was cut by almost 70 percent.
The program reduction has meant that all activities except the telephone and mail-request centers have been eliminated and the staff reduced to about 50 from about 100, said Jeremy A. Lifsey, vice president for information technology for the Franklin Research Center, which administers the program.
But Lifsey prefers to look at what he sees as the bright side of the picture: that under a new mandate, the information centers are allowed to answer questions not just about solar, but about all forms of renewable energy. a
"Before, it was just solar heating and cooling of residential and commercial buildings," Lifsey said. "Now it's all renewable energy sources -- wind, biomass, wood, ocean thermal -- and it's all applications, including agricultural, industrial and transportation."
Nevertheless, solar energy is still the primary topic of the hot line's calls. The Alabama caller was followed by a man from Tennessee seeking information about how to add a solar system to his house; a man from West Virginia who wanted to sell solar heating devices and was looking for names of manufacturers.
For residents of other states, except Alaska and Hawaii, the number is (800) 523-2929. For Pennsylvania residents, the hot line number is (800) 462-4983.