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Lara Ettenson’s Blog

California's Private Utilities Show Strong Energy Efficiency Progress

Lara Ettenson

Posted September 27, 2012 in Curbing Pollution, Environmental Justice, Health and the Environment, Moving Beyond Oil, Solving Global Warming

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The California Public Utilities Commission, the agency that regulates California’s private utilities, recently released a staff report indicating that utility energy-efficiency programs from 2010 and 2011 saved enough energy to power over 600,000 households for a year. These savings avoided the need for nearly two large power plants and cut pollution equivalent to the emissions from more than 700,000 vehicles.

Without question, the CPUC “2010-2011 Energy Efficiency Annual Progress Evaluation Report” shows that investor owned utilities have made important progress towards meeting the state’s clean energy goals.

As many Californians know, energy efficiency is the cleanest, fastest, and cheapest resource to meet customers’ energy service needs, reduce pollution, lower customer bills, and meet the state’s ambitious climate goals under the AB 32 Global Warming Solutions Act. Energy efficiency also yields a well-needed economic stimulus by creating jobs across the economy.

Let’s look at the progress under the 2010-2012 $3.1 billion energy efficiency portfolios approved by the CPUC in 2009. Guided by the California Long Term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan, these programs help all types of customers (e.g., commercial, residential, agricultural, industrial, etc.) and reach all levels of the supply chain (e.g., manufacturers, retailers, contractors, and customers). So far:

  • Every dollar invested in energy efficiency produced $2 in benefits for consumers; 
  • The utilities’ preliminary estimates of energy savings met or exceeded the CPUC’s goals for 2010 and 2011 (the Commission will verify these results);
  • More than 40 cities, counties, and regional governments are partnering with the private utilities to deliver efficiency services to customers and help lower customer bills;
  • Loans that cover the up-front costs of efficiency projects for businesses and local governments and can be repaid on monthly utility bills (known as “On Bill Financing”) quickly became oversubscribed, an indicator of both its popularity and success in driving adoption of energy efficient products and practices;
  • About half the savings were in the commercial sector, a third were from the residential sector, and the agricultural and industrial savings made up the rest;
  • Most of the energy savings for households came from lighting, recycling old and inefficient appliances, installation of high efficiency appliances, and consumer electronics;  
  • The three biggest energy savers were high-efficiency lighting (59%); process improvements such as replacing equipment, improved management of existing systems, preventative maintenance, etc. (13%) and efficient heaters and air conditioners at 10%. 

For a look at how well the public utilities (serving nearly a quarter of the state’s electricity needs) are doing to advance energy efficiency, see my blog assessing the past five years of efficiency achievements in public power.

There is no doubt that California’s efficiency programs help customers lower their energy use and bills, reduce pollution, and reinvigorate the economy.  And we’ve only taken advantage of a fraction of the available opportunities. California must maintain strong energy efficiency policies and continue to push the envelope to accelerate efficiency achievements. This will uphold the state’s leadership role and expand benefits for California’s air and customers’ wallets.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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