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Energy Efficiency Programs, In or Out?

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National data shows that people who live in the five least-efficient states have seen electric bills increase twice as much as those living in five most-efficient states.  Energy efficiency is believed to be the answer to energy waste and unemployment.  Achieving efficient homes and buildings requires skilled labor and therefore creates jobs.  However, the energy efficiency industry has been hard hit by the pandemic and has asked lawmakers for help restoring jobs and retrofitting work.  In Arizona, the Corporation Commission was considering a new energy rule that would have omitted the Energy Efficiency (EE) Standard and  eliminated incentives.  Noticing the change, City Council voted to protect energy efficiency.  “The July 29 staff-proposed rule does not include an energy efficiency standard, while the BK Amendment mandates that utilities achieve substantial reductions through energy efficiency,” Public Works Director Dan Worth said. Reducing incentives with only a 30-day notice would have resulted in higher bills for APS customers.  Adding to the heavy burden some are already carrying as a result of the pandemic.  Since 2011, APS has been required to offer efficiency incentives which has translated into lower power bill options for ratepayers.  The new rule proposes (1) 50% of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources such as solar and wind by 2030; (2) 100% of power generated in the state be carbon-emission free by 2050; and (3) 35% of Arizona electricity demand is met with energy efficiency measures by 2030 and thereafter.  “The city supports continued rebates and incentives to encourage users to effectively manage energy usage and to partner with business to choose the most environmentally responsible equipment,” Mayor Jim Lane, said. “Energy efficiency measures produce greater results when assisted by utility set-asides and targets. We hope that reducing energy consumption will mitigate the need for new utility-scale power plants while reducing the urban heat island effect and keeping our energy rates as low as possible.”

While energy efficiency measures are protected in one state, they continue to come under fire across the country.  In Hawaii, Governor Ige released final veto list with bill HB1846 listed among the rejects.  The bill would have required all state facilities, ten thousand square feet or more, to implement all cost-effective measures by January 1, 2024.  Concerns about creating unnecessary risk of litigation was the rationale for veto.  There are already 23 projects committed to energy efficiency, slated for 2021 and valued at approximately $39M.  Hawaii will have to rely on other ways to reduce energy consumption and increase efficiency.  According to Hawaiian Electric, residential energy use increased by 12.5%, but it was offset by a huge dip in the hotel and lodging industry—between 30% and 50%. Retail business use also fell 25%.  As the economy and visitors return, hotel and retail electricity use will increase.  So the residential space will need to improve their efficiency to offset the demand. 

In a much colder corner of the county, utilities are embracing energy efficiency goals in parts of New England.  Earlier this month, Eversource, Unitil, Liberty Utilities and the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative filed their proposal with the Public Utilities Commission.  The utilities' new goal would have them sell 5% less electricity and 3% less gas between 2021 and 2023. The current goal, spanning 2018 to 2020, was to sell 3% less electricity and 2% less gas.  New Hampshire’s utilities say they “reviewed other states’ energy efficiency portfolios” for inspiration on their NHSaves rebate program and 2021-2023 plan.  “We are in a very cold corner of the country where energy is very expensive,” state utility consumer advocate Don Kreis says. “That’s where energy efficiency can have the most impact.”  New Hampshire scored 20 out of 50 for its energy efficiency policies in the 2019 state scorecard from a key industry trade group.  Massachusetts has the top possible rank on the 2019 scorecard, and Vermont and Rhode Island each earn a three out of 50.

If lawmakers decide in favor of energy efficiency standards, will it help the economy, restore energy efficiency jobs and encourage more retrofitting?  That is uncertain, but it will conserve energy.

Nevelyn Black's picture

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Dudley McFadden's picture
Dudley McFadden on Sep 23, 2020 2:27 pm GMT

Thanks for the summary of these various jurisdictions holding the line on renewable goals.  They have a tough row to hoe.  The pandemic has shown that Americans have fickle views on environmentally beneficial policies.  What will become of all the cheap acrylic shields, manufactured from petrochemicals, installed at checkout lanes nationwide? Americans seem amenable to filling landfills with disposable food containers from restaurants.  In developing countries, patrons bring their own serving dishes and utensils. One glance at the employee parking lot at my electric utility company shows workers continue to purchase new full-size pickup trucks every few years. APS is worried about their customers' "higher bills" which could be mitigated by simply adjusting the thermostat.  Meanwhile, landlords are required to allow tennats to remain rent-free; how will they pay for mandated energy-efficient upgrades in wall insulation and HVAC equipment?  (Apparently not through taxes on their income!)  Do we really want to be green?  Even if it infringes on our lifestyle preferences and discretionary spending money?  I know it would be better for us all if we did; and I hope attitudes continue to evolve.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 23, 2020 4:24 pm GMT

A lot of interesting questions and points here, thanks for sharing Dudley!

It definitely seems to be a constant push and pull between environmental objectives and other considerations. Like for the takeout container issue you point out-- I definitely cringe everytime I have to throw away a styrofoam container from takeout, but especially now I can understand the health concerns and code violations from bringing my own Tupperware to a restaurant. But surely there's a middle ground-- reusable takeout containers the restaurant gives you that you can bring back for them to clean and re-use later for a $1 rebate or something like that? Of course that's just one small example, but hopefully we can continue to find viable solutions that can be environmental, practical, and economically viable for all these sorts of question marks. 

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