When Temps Drop: Tips to Keep Your Energy Costs Down

Last year on Christmas Day, many Hartselle residents were wearing shorts because the weather was so mild. It was easy to overlook the extremely cold days in January, until February and March utility bills arrived. With record-setting cold temperatures in January – Tuesday, Jan. 7 set an all-time high for energy usage across TVA’s system – many Hartselle Utilities were caught off-guard when they received their utility bills.

“Shocked is the better term,” says General Manager Bob Sittason. “People had not seen a high bill in two years. We all remembered the mild Christmas Day, but in January temperatures dropped to single digits several times. February bills were much higher than what many of our customers expected.

“The Farmers Almanac, TVA forecasters and others have predicted this coming winter will be wet and chilly, and possibly just as extreme as last year,” Sittason adds.

When the temperature drops outside, there are things you can do to keep your energy usage – and your utility bill – lower. Here are some tips:

1. Turn down your thermostat to 68 degrees or lower. For every degree you consistently lower your heat in the 60-degree to 70-degree range, you’ll save three to five percent on heating costs.

2. Set the thermostat back to 55 degrees when leaving home for an extended time. Please note that heat pumps should only be set back 2 degrees to prevent unneeded use of backup strip heating, which carries higher costs.

3. Check air filters. Dirty air filters increase your energy usage and can also damage your heating. Be sure to use filters approved for your specific system.

4. Caulk around windows and replace old weather stripping around doors to keep the cold air out.

5. Reduce cold-air drafts around windows – typically seen in older homes – by using heavy-duty, clear plastic sheets or tape clear plastic film inside your windows. Ensure the plastic is sealed tightly to reduce cold-air drafts.

6. Close your fireplace damper when not in use.

7. Schedule service for your heating system, and ask what maintenance is required to keep it running optimally. Keep up with maintenance milestones.

8. Open curtains on your south-facing windows on sunny days to naturally heat your home with sunlight. Close the curtains at night to reduce any chill or drafts.

You can find additional energy-saving suggestions on TVA’s
Energy Right Solutions website at energyright.com.

Why is your sewer bill more than your water bill?

You (hopefully) would never drink water from the Tennessee River before it was treated. And, also hopefully, you would never run a pipe from your toilet, washing machine and dishwasher straight into Shoal Creek. Turning river water into drinking water has a cost. Cleaning waste water so that it can be returned to the environment has an even higher cost.

If you buy your water from Hartselle Utilities and are connected to our sewer system, your bill will have separate line items for water and wastewater.

Each sewer customer has a base sewer charge that is designed to provide a portion of the required revenue to help maintain HU’s sewer system infrastructure; fund capital projects within our sewer collection system and at our Wastewater Treatment Plant; and ensure that HU can meet its debt repayment obligations for loans taken out to maintain the wastewater system infrastructure. Additionally, customers are charged a volumetric charge for sewer system usage based on their water usage, because most of the time the water a household uses exits the home through the sewer system as wastewater.

Hartselle Utilities purchases water from Decatur Utilities. Decatur Utilities bears the costs of turning water from the Tennessee River into safe drinking water, and they have the benefit of scale from a large customer base to spread the cost over many individual water customers.

Wastewater – sewage – that enters HU’s system is treated in Hartselle. The Hartselle Utilities Wastewater Treatment Plant cleans wastewater and sewage so that it can be returned safely to our environment.

Everything that enters our sewer system is processed to meet both federal and state standards. And as environmental regulations have become more stringent, the cost to meet the standards has increased.

In addition, as scientific discoveries about the harmful effects of pollution provide more information about what is safe, treating wastewater becomes increasingly more complicated. At the turn of the century, if wastewater was treated at all, it was only to remove really big, obvious items. Later, settling tanks were introduced to remove small solids, but the water released back into the environment was still polluted by today’s standards.

Today, HU’s wastewater treatment process first removes solids – everything from rags and plastics to sand and smaller particles – found in the wastewater. Then, naturally-occurring ‘helpful’ bacteria and other microorganisms consume organic matter and pollutants in the wastewater, and are then separated from the water. Finally, the wastewater is treated to restore oxygen back into the water to ensure that it can support life, before it is released into Shoal Creek.

It is an effective system, but an expensive one to operate.

In addition to the treatment plant costs, a sewer system’s infrastructure is more expensive to build, replace and maintain than that of a water system.

Drinking water is delivered through pressurized pipes. It can flow uphill as well as downhill, so water lines can be placed only a few feet underground. Water pipes can generally be constructed in already cleared right-of-way areas. By contrast, the flow of wastewater through sewer lines is controlled by gravity. Sewer pipes must be installed in lower lying areas, and placed deeper in the ground, both of which can increase construction costs, replacement cost and the cost to maintain our sewer system.  In addition, there are less sewer customers to spread these increased costs to than those of our water system.

There are ways you can help HU keep our wastewater treatment costs down and help protect our environment. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Don’t put anything into toilets other than human waste and toilet paper. Even if a wet wipe is advertised as ‘flushable,’ it’s a solid. Throw it in the trash.
  • Scrape food leftovers into the trash, or even better, into a compost bin
  • Pour fats, oils and milk into used containers, with lids, and put into the trash, instead of pouring them down the drain.
  • Use environmentally friendly detergents and cleaning products.
  • Wash paint brushes in a bucket and pour the water into your yard or garden, away from drains.
  • Dispose of household chemicals in safe containers instead of pouring them down the drain.
  • Never pour leftover medicine down the drain or into the toilet.

Hartselle Receives Grant for Improvements in Snow Hill

Smoke tests, such as this one conducted in the Snow Hill neighborhood, show if there are cracks or gaps within a sewer line, which could allow inflow and infiltration from rainwater and groundwater. Inflow and infiltration puts added stress on the sewer system and the Wastewater Treatment Plant.

In January, the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) awarded the City of Hartselle and Hartselle Utilities a Community Development Block Grant for improvements in the Snow Hill area. The grant will cover improvements to sewer, water lines, storm drainage and roadways on Rhodes, Andy, Edgewood, Brookline and Midway streets. Approximately 120 people live in the 68 homes in the neighborhood.

The grant will pay $450,000 towards the estimated costs of the improvements, including materials. Hartselle Utilities and the City are meeting their grant matching share requirements by providing in-house labor and equipment.

The grant application was a joint venture by Hartselle Utilities and the City, with support from residents in the Snow Hill area. This was the second year that Hartselle applied for a grant for this project; it was not awarded in 2016.

“I am very appreciative that we were selected to receive the CDBG this year,” says Hartselle Mayor Randy Garrison. “We were disappointed that we did not receive it last year.”

During heavy rainfall, especially when it rains for several days, Hartselle’s sewer system has issues with inflow and infiltration – when rainwater and groundwater enter the wastewater treatment system through cracks or other openings in sewage pipes. The Snow Hill area has been identified as one of the major contributors of inflow and infiltration into the sewer system. The area was developed in the early 1950s, and the sewer pipe that was used at that time has reached its life span, according to Hartselle Utilities Engineering Services Manager Daxton Maze.

“Our goal, in all cases, is to ensure the integrity of our collection system and the replacement of these sewer mains is forward progress for us in that pursuit,” Maze states.

Aging roadways in the Snow Hill area are no longer draining properly, causing roadways to crack. As part of the improvements included in the grant, Hartselle Public Works will repave the streets in the area.

Normally, Hartselle Utilities would only replace sewer services up to the right-of-way and developers or homeowners would be responsible for infrastructure from the right of way to the residence. Part of the inflow and infiltration problems identified include aging service lines between the right of way and the residences, and under the grant Hartselle Utilities will be able to replace services all the way to individual homes.

The water system in the Snow Hill area is also aging. Residents in the area have reported severe water pressure issues. Hartselle Utilities will replace the older cast iron water mains with C900 PVC water pipe and replace the polybutylene service lines with PEX (cross-linked polyethylene) service lines, which are both today’s standard in water distribution materials. 

The streetscapes and road surfaces in the area are deteriorating as well, resulting in blocked culverts and ditches and overall impaired surface water drainage. The drainage problem on the streets has caused roadways to crack and ravel, with increasing numbers of potholes and depressions. The drainage problem also increases the potential for inflow and infiltration into the sewer lines, because rainwater that cannot drain through the culverts and ditches makes its way into the sewer system.

The Grant will provide funding allowing Hartselle Public Works Department to improve storm drainage culverts and repave the streets in areas affected by the construction.

“Any time we are able to make infrastructure improvements that provide a better quality of life for our residents and in turn increase property values, we are happy to participate in that process,” says Mayor Garrison. “This is a win-win for everyone involved.”

Hartselle Customers 10th in TVA Area for Energy Savings 

Seventy-one Hartselle
Utilities residential,
business and industrial
customers participated in
TVA’s EnergyRight Solutions
program last year, saving a
total of 825,840 kWh.

At the September 18 Board Meeting, representatives from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) recognized Hartselle Utilities for placing 10th in the TVA service area – out of 154 local power companies – for overall program savings in the EnergyRight Solutions program, compared to the utility’s electric sales.

Hartselle Utilities was recognized for helping TVA exceed energy efficiency and demand response goals for the ninth straight year through its participation in the EnergyRight Solutions program.

“Hartselle Utilities provides the staffing, promotion and resources to ensure that customers are aware of and can participate in energy effi ciency measures to save on electric bills,” said Cindy Herron, vice president of EnergyRight Solutions for TVA.

“Really, it is our customers who took advantage of the program and won the award,” says Hartselle Utilities General Manager Bob Sittason. “We promoted the EnergyRight program, but we can’t make people sign up or follow through.”

TVA’s EnergyRight Solutions includes eScore, which helps homeowners improve the energy efficiency of their homes by choosing to install one or more energy efficiency upgrades based on expert recommendations. Participants in the program are eligible for rebates.

Forty Hartselle Utilities customers participated in eScore last year, and saved over 27,400 kWh. Twenty-five customers performed household self-audits, for 18,200 kWh in savings. Hartselle residents also participated in the EnergyRight Solutions heat pump and Energy Start Manufactured Homes programs.

Three business and industrial customers participated in the EnergyRight Solutions for Business and Industry, with 754,773 kWh in savings.

To participate in the EnergyRight Solutions program, call 1-855-2eScore (1-855-237-2673) or visit www.2eScore.com to schedule an eScore evaluation or for a list of local members of TVA’s Quality Contractor Network.

Avoid the Pruning Zone: Plant the Right Tree in the Right Place

Planning to add trees to your yard this summer? Planting a tree brings many benefits, including shade, privacy, cleaner air, and noise reduction, but choosing the wrong tree can create higher maintenance costs. Where you plant your tree is just as important as the type of tree you plant. At maturity, will its canopy reach overhead lines, or will its roots impact sewer pipes?

Planting the wrong tree for a particular spot – for example, a white oak that will grow to 80 feet tall with a 70-foot canopy underneath a power line – will create an ongoing need for corrective pruning, and the tree will be more prone to disease and structural issues as a result.

Before selecting your tree, make sure you know how tall, wide and deep it will be at maturity. A good source of information is the National Arbor Day Foundation’s online Tree Guide, at arborday.org.

If you are planting within 30 feet of power lines, choose a tree with a mature height of less than 20 feet tall. Flowering dogwoods and crabapple trees, for example, won’t get tall enough to interfere with Hartselle Utilities’ power lines.

Trees with a mature height of over 40 feet should be planted at least 60 feet away from power lines, according to National Arbor Day Foundation guidelines. This will minimize damage to power lines from trees knocked down during bad weather.

Finally, before you dig anywhere in your yard, call the Alabama 811 hotline. After getting the details about your project, the Alabama 811 center will send notifications to all utility service providers
which may have wires or pipes in the ground near your site. At Hartselle Utilities, a Locate Technician will visit the site within 48 hours to mark the location of underground utilities in the area, if any.

If you have a tree in your yard that needs to be pruned repeatedly to keep it away from power lines, HU will cut it down for you at no charge. To request that a tree be removed, call HU Customer Service at (256) 773-3340.

New Commercial Development in Hartselle

The shell of the new Zaxby’s is taking shape on Hwy 31. The lot was previously a truck stop and carwash, and HU crews removed several old water connections to get the site ready for the new building.

Hartselle has several new commercial developments coming to the city in 2017. Along Highway 31, construction has begun on several projects including Zaxby’s, Hartselle Medical Plaza, and the 31 Centre shopping mall.

“The City of Hartselle is very excited to see new growth in the commercial/retail area,” says Hartselle Mayor Randy Garrison. “We welcome Zaxby’s, Arby’s, 31 Centre and Hartselle Medical Plaza as new members of the Hartselle family. We appreciate the confidence the new developers have in our city and are thankful to them for investing in Hartselle.”

The new developments will help boost Hartselle Utilities’ number of commercial customers. HU has also provided utility service to a new mini-storage facility on the south end of Hwy. 31, and will also be providing utilities for the Alfa Insurance building that will be torn down and reconstructed on the same site.

“We have seen a definite spike in commercial development over the past few months, and we are working hard to provide the desired utilities to each of these new establishments,” says HU Engineering Services Manager Daxton Maze.

Construction at Zaxby’s, located on Hwy 31 next to O’Reilly’s, is well underway and all utility connections have been installed as of April, with the addition of a new hydrant for fire protection.

Hartselle Medical Plaza will be at the corner of Hwy. 31 and Mynatt Street. It will house several medical providers, including a general physician practice, physical rehabilitation, and a pharmacy. Hartselle Utilities has provided underground power, installed a new manhole, and provided eight domestic water meters as part of the utility connection costs for the developer.

Alfa Insurance, located on Hwy. 31 next to the HU Water Tank, will be demolishing their existing structure and building a new office at the same location. HU has assisted in providing temporary water for an on-site agent office where the employees will work during construction.

Across from Eddie Preuitt Ford, 31 Centre is a new three tenant development that will be anchored by Arby’s. Construction began on this project the first week of April.

“We believe this is just the beginning of growth the city will be experiencing in the near future and welcome others who are contemplating expanding to take a look at Hartselle,” says Mayor Garrison. “We look forward to working with Hartselle Utilities on new projects as we all join together to move Hartselle forward.”

Getting a project going

Prior to most commercial projects, developers inquire to HU about availability of utilities to determine their site layout and utility locations. HU will provide field locates for verification for ‘as-built’ developer construction maps. Also, HU provides an estimated cost of connection for each utility per our customer service and rates policies.

HU’s Engineering Staff and Field Crew Superintendent hold a meeting with each developer and general contractor prior to construction to ensure all questions are answered and all details are ironed out. Developments are reviewed at several levels prior to being approved for construction, including the Technical Review Committee that consists of City of Hartselle Development Department, City of Hartselle consulting engineer, Hartselle Fire Department, Hartselle Public Works, and Hartselle Utilities Engineering Department. The plans are inspected for proper utility sizing, adequate fire protection, adequate means of ingress and egress, proper site drainage, appropriate signage, along with other items.

The Planning Commission and the Board of Zoning and Adjustment are also often involved in the approval process of developments.

“As a utility provider, our goal is to assist the developers with the construction process, ensuring we are on time with our pieces of the project, along with providing open communication to make certain the project can stay on schedule,” says Maze.

Hartselle: Past Present and Future

By Randy Garrison, Hartselle Mayor

Hartselle’s Main Street during the 1950s, decorated for Christmas. (Photo courtesy of Hartselle Historical Society)

Hartselle was founded in 1870 by George Hartsell looking for a stop along the railway. This area offered a preferred location and thus the city we now call home was born. Hartselle was an agricultural area and businesses offering services related to agriculture soon sprang up around the railroad depot which was located on what is now Railroad Street.

Hartselle continued as an agricultural area for many years with many who resided in nearby communities making their living from the fertile soil in the area. Many of those who resided in Hartselle offered retail or banking to those who came into Hartselle to conduct business.

With the growth of industry in nearby Decatur and Huntsville as well as industry that located in Hartselle after World War II, the community expanded and moved away from the agricultural roots that were grown deep in the area.

Hartselle continued to grow and expand not only in population but in area as well with land that was previously farmed, now sold, divided and used as property locations for new housing for those now calling Hartselle home and for expanding families.

Hartselle took a huge step in 1973 when the city fathers pulled away from the Morgan County School System and Hartselle City Schools was formed. As the school system grew so did Hartselle. The city continues to be known for the highly ranked test scores from Hartselle schools and the system continues to bring new families to Hartselle for the educational opportunities.

Hartselle is also able to offer recreational areas that would be the envy of many larger cities, offering fields for football, baseball, soccer, basketball and an aquatic center. Hartselle also offers a state of the art playground for those with physical limitations. The city also supports and lends aid for high school sporting event playing fields as well.

Known as the “City of Southern Hospitality” Hartselle is also referred to as a bedroom community with many of its approximately 14,995 citizens living in the city, but leaving each day for employment in nearby communities. The preference for living a smaller community keeps many of those who were born and raised in Hartselle staying here, and those who chose to move here are looking for the same small community lifestyle.

The lifestyle offers a quieter and even safer area to live and raise a family. Hartselle also has an abundance of churches of many denominations which offer worship opportunities and involvement for our strongly faith-based community. These churches pull the community together in times of need and are always ready to lend a helping hand to those who are in need of food, shelter, clothing, a shoulder to cry on and prayer for better days.

Hartselle is governed by a city council made up of five elected officials. The mayor serves as the CEO of the city and handles the day to day operations of the city and carries out the desires of the council. The council also approves an annual budget with city departments using it to operate during the fiscal year, guided by the city clerk and mayor.

The citizens of the City of Hartselle recently voted to allow the sale of alcoholic beverages with the city limits. This will bring about a change for Hartselle, which had remained “dry” since 1933. Members of the city governing body are counting on this change to help bring in new business and industry to the city. Hartselle is very dependent on sales tax to fund their needs and this will be another avenue not only to recruit but also the sales tax brought in will help fund capital projects. The city has not been able to fund many capital projects for the past few years; the advent of alcohol tax may offer some relief in replacing aging equipment for city departments as well as offering monies to pave city streets, many of which are past due for new asphalt.

Hartselle has been, is now and will continue to be a desirable area for many to call home. The current leaders are working hard making plans to improve the lives of those who live here and planning for the future for those who will come afterward.