Although an Iowa utility’s new five-year plan will add some potentially effective tools to its efficiency toolkit, critics worry that the target has been set low enough that the utility has little incentive to market those options. Alliant Energy, which does business in Iowa through its subsidary, Interstate Power and Light, is making some substantial additions to its suite of efficiency benefits. It will significantly expand subsidies for purchases of LED light bulbs, and will for the first time provide benefits to customers that invest in combined heat and power facilities. But since the state’s utility regulator is requiring Alliant to reduce electricity sales by only about 1.1 percent annually for the next five years, some people wonder how hard the company will strive to get customers to reduce their energy use. “What’s important is the effort” that goes into getting customers to take advantage of the new benefits, said Josh Mandelbaum, a staff attorney in Des Moines for the Environmental Law and Policy Center. Goals set too low, he said, tend to result in only half-hearted outreach and marketing efforts.
Utility-run efficiency programs have led to reduced energy use by homeowners and other energy customers — as well as lower rates — but some industries want out of the programs.
In Ohio, at the behest of a large number of the state’s industries, lawmakers are considering a bill that would, among other provisions, allow industries to stop participating in efficiency programs of any kind.
In Illinois, a group of large industries has asked Commonwealth Edison to create a pilot program that would allow certain industrial customers to put their efficiency payments into an escrow account, and to use the funds to pay for their own, self-directed efficiency initiatives. Typically, utility customers are required to pay into a fund that finances efficiency improvements throughout the utility’s service area.
And in October, a group of a half-dozen industries failed to persuade the Iowa Utilities Board to exempt them from the efficiency program run by Interstate Power & Light.
The Iowa industries sought an “opt out,” meaning they wouldn’t have to pay for the utility’s efficiency program, and wouldn’t be required to invest in any efficiency efforts on their own, either.
The board told them if they wish to do an end-run around the utility efficiency program, they’ll have to get the legislature’s permission, according to Nathaniel Baer, energy program director for the Iowa Environmental Council, which objected to the industries’ request.
Minnesota’s largest electric utility is asking state regulators to change the way it sets electricity rates so that it isn’t penalized when customers conserve energy.
As part of a rate increase request filed Monday, Xcel Energy is proposing to partially separate its revenue from electricity sales starting in 2015, a policy known as “decoupling.”
If electricity sales were lower than forecasted for a given year, the utility would be allowed to make up the difference by charging a higher rate the following year.
The reverse would also be true: if electricity sales exceeded forecasts, the utility would have to refund the surplus to customers through a lower rate the next year.
Energy conservation advocates say the decoupling arrangement removes a historical disincentive for utilities to invest in energy efficiency programs.
“It’s a very big deal. This fundamentally changes the nature of the business if it happens,” said Ralph Cavanagh, co-director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s energy program.
Cross-posted from Greentech Media with permission
By Stephen Lacey
Energy efficiency is a notoriously difficult resource to track. Measuring energy not used in a home, a commercial building or across the economy often requires a range of assumptions and a variety of models — techniques that are sometimes criticized for being too generous or too complicated.
A unique clean-energy financing program in Michigan has expanded in size to serve nearly 1.5 million residents, and is poised to add the state’s most populous county.
Lean & Green Michigan, which Midwest Energy News profiled in April, is a private initiative to help cities and counties set up districts to administer Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, programs.
PACE programs enable property owners to finance efficiency upgrades and other energy improvements through a property tax assessment — meaning the debt stays with the property, rather than the owner, an arrangement that provides greater security for lenders.
While Michigan has allowed PACE financing since 2010, few jurisdictions have the resources or expertise to administer the programs — so far, Ann Arbor is the only city to set up a district on its own.
As smart meters enable utilities to vary the price of electricity throughout the day, will consumers change their patterns of energy use in response?
If pilot programs in Michigan, Illinois, and other places so far are any indication, they very likely will.
DTE Energy, which serves Detroit and southeastern Michigan, has installed smart meters in the homes and businesses of about 1.1 million customers. It’s projected that by 2017, all 2.1 million DTE customers will have the meters, according to spokesman Scott Simons.
Forty years after the first OPEC oil embargo left Americans stunned, vulnerable and waiting for their turn at the gas pump, the United States is getting more than twice as much productivity out of every barrel of oil and every kilowatt hour of electricity.
According to a new study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), huge advances in energy efficiency have meant that:
• Total U.S. energy use has fallen since peaking in 2007;
• Americans used less energy in 2012 then in 1999, even though the economy grew by more than 25 percent (adjusted for inflation) over that period;
• Although electricity use more than doubled between 1973 and 2000, the growth rate tumbled to about 6 percent between 2000 and 2012, meaning it increased more slowly than the U.S. population;
• and Americans used less oil in 2012 than in 1973, even though the economy tripled in size over that period.
Editor’s note: Dan Haugen is traveling in Scandinavia this month as part of the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s Climate Media Fellowship program.
COPENHAGEN—In the U.S., there’s rising anxiety and speculation about how flat or falling electricity demand could affect utilities’ long-term business models.
Here in Denmark, though, electric companies have long operated in a slow- or no-growth market, and they continue to invest in further lowering customers’ energy use.
The Danish efficiency scheme has become the model for a new European Union efficiency law currently being implemented, and it could offer ideas and inspiration for U.S. policymakers, too, as they attempt to design incentives that can convince electric utilities to take a lead role in helping customers use less of the very product they sell.
Denmark has steadily invested in energy conservation ever since the 1970s energy crisis, when an Arab oil embargo caused fuel shortages and skyrocketing prices. As President Reagan was pulling solar panels off the White House roof, Denmark continued to spend money improving its building and power plant efficiency.
Cross-posted from Great Lakes Echo
By Becky McKendry
Indiana’s Monroe County government keeps getting leaner and greener with little fanfare.
Early last year, the county – home to Bloomington and Indiana University – made headlines when it received a grant to create one of the largest solar panel systems in the state. Now it is a little more than a year into what county officials say is one of the most comprehensive energy plans in government.
In summer 2012, the Indiana Office of Energy Development funded the county’s Community Energy Plan, an initiative that calls for an alternative-fuel government fleet, community outreach programs and extensive energy upgrades in the nooks and crannies of all 19 county-owned buildings.
Cross-posted from Greentech Media with permission
By Katherine Tweed
Earlier this year, Cree dropped the price of its 40-watt equivalent (6-watt) warm-white light-emitting diode, or LED, bulb to less than $10.
The incumbents were watching and have answered. Last month, Philips partnered with Home Depot and utilities to bring the price of its 60-watt LED equivalent to $9.97 after utility rebate. For regions without a utility rebate available, its 10.5-watt A19 will be offered for $10.97.
Philips also started offering instant utility rebates for its LED bulbs at many Staples stores last month. Ikea was early onto the LED bandwagon. The Swedish retailer said last year it would only sell LEDs after 2016.
On Wednesday, the world’s largest retailer also got into the game. Wal-Mart is selling its line of Great Value LEDs for less than $10. Wal-Mart rolled back prices all the way down to $8.88 for a 60-watt-equivalent, soft-white bulb that is not dimmable. Wal-Mart will also offer a new dimmable 60-watt equivalent by GE for $11. GE is also selling its Reveal LED for about $20 at other retailers.