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State PUC proposes energy-saving programs

Saturday 29th of August 2009 6:55 PM

This article appeared on page C - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

California energy regulators have proposed a sweeping, $2.9 billion package of programs to slash the amount of electricity and natural gas the state uses in the next three years, potentially saving as much power as the output from three power plants.

The proposal from the California Public Utilities Commission would try to wring energy savings from homes and businesses alike. Some houses would be retrofitted with energy-efficient lights, windows and air conditioning to cut their power use by at least 20 percent.

The proposal, issued by the commission on Tuesday, would increase by nearly one-third the amount that Californians spend on energy efficiency. The money would come from utility bills, with $1.2 billion paid by customers of Pacific Gas and Electric Co. alone.

But the commission argues that the energy efficiency effort will actually save Californians money by reducing the number of power plants and power lines that need to be built.
For every dollar spent on efficiency, Californians should save $1.40 to $1.50, according to the commission. Those who volunteer for home retrofits or use rebates to buy energy-efficient appliances would also save by cutting their own energy use.

"Even if you don't participate, overall the utility is going to be lowering its costs, and that's going to be passed through to you as lower rates," said Commissioner Dian Grueneich. "And if you want to participate, you'll save even more."

Consumer advocates on Wednesday were still sifting through the 378-page document, which details specific programs that will be run by the state's three big, investor-owned utilities during the next three years.
But Bob Finkelstein, legal director for The Utility Reform Network, liked some of what he saw. For example, the proposal would cap the amount of money utilities spend to run the individual efficiency programs. No more than 10 percent of each program's cost could be spent on administration.

"That's been a source of pure gravy for utilities in the past - their overhead," Finkelstein said.

The proposal seeks to keep California at the forefront of a movement that has taken on national importance as part of the fight against global warming.
Starting in the 1970s, the state adopted building codes and home appliance standards to cut electricity use. As a result, the average amount used by each Californian has stayed flat, even as it grew throughout the United States. Now President Obama has made improving efficiency nationwide a major part of his drive to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

The new proposal would create 12 major energy efficiency programs to be administered by the utilities. One of the programs would retrofit, in the next three years, an estimated 130,000 homes to dramatically lower their energy use. Another would provide financial incentives for advanced lighting technologies such as LEDs, while scaling back incentives for compact fluorescent light bulbs, now that their prices have dropped substantially.
Together, the programs could cut California's peak electricity demand by 1,536 megawatts by the end of the three-year period. A megawatt is the amount of power used by 750 homes at any given instant.

To read the energy efficiency proposal from the California Public Utilities Commission, go to links.sfgate.com/ZIAH.

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/08/26/BUOR19E937.DTL#ixzz0PZzKfuA5

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