Assembly Panel Looks for New Energy-Efficiency Ideas

By Published On: November 18, 2005

The Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee held a marathon hearing on energy efficiency November 16 in search of ideas that could form the basis of legislation in 2006. Key concepts of interest to committee chair Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) were new consumer rebate programs, including for “white roofs,” and targeting multi-tenant buildings with efficiency measures. Energy, the lawmaker said, “should be inexpensive, should be clean, and should be reliable. As policy makers, we should strive for a balance.” Because increasing efficiency is the “cleanest and cheapest” form of energy, it must play a major role in achieving that balance, he said. The hearing came as the state’s investor-owned utilities plan to spend $2 billion over the next three years on efficiency measures to head off projected increases in demand. However, utilities have not included every possible energy-efficiency measure in their programs, said Bob Kinosian, Office of Ratepayer Advocates policy adviser. Key strategies that utilities could integrate into their existing programs include incentives for white roof shingles and rebates for liquid crystal display monitors for computers and televisions, he said. White roofs cut air conditioning use by between 40 and 50 percent, Kinosian said, and LCD monitors use less electricity and produce less waste heat than cathode ray tube monitors, further reducing the need for air conditioning in businesses and homes. Levine asked the Kinosian to send the committee “a laundry list” of energy-efficiency measures that are not yet being used routinely to reduce power demand in California. “What we’re seeing today is per-household usage going up,” said Lynda Ziegler, Southern California Edison vice-president of customer programs and services. She said that 1.2 million households in the utility’s service territory have air conditioning and that 47 percent of the units are at least 12 years old-and thus inefficient. “On really hot days, it’s the residential that drives the peak up,”she said. “The real savings come in getting at the old air conditioners.” Consequently, the company is focusing on rebates for efficient residential cooling systems, including evaporative cooling units and whole-house fans. Customers in San Diego County are looking for integrated programs that will save them money on their energy bills, said Patty Wagner, San Diego Gas & Electric and SoCal Gas director of gas distribution. Customers are interested in solar power, saving on gas usage, and increasing the efficiency of their lighting and appliances, she said. The two utilities have teamed up with the city of Santa Monica to create a sustainable development that will include cutting-edge energy-efficiency measures and potentially an on-site fuel cell to provide electricity and hot water, Wagner said. Levine and Assemblymember Russ Bogh (R-Yucaipa), committee vice-chair, expressed concern about whether energy-efficiency programs were reaching renters in both commercial and residential buildings and whether master metering was hampering conservation and efficiency in multitenant buildings. “In many of the facilities we see their energy bill is paid by the tenants,” said Roland Risser, Pacific Gas & Electric director of customer energy efficiency. “What’s the incentive to save?” Brian Prusnek, California Public Utilities Commission member Susan Kennedy’s chief of staff, suggested that offices, stores, and dwelling units in multi-tenant structures could be individually metered in conjunction with the state’s push to install advanced meters that will provide utility customers real-time energy price information. Both Levine and Bogh said it might be a good idea to eliminate master meters in new construction. However, others, such as The Utility Reform Network, cautioned against installing advanced meters coupled with real-time pricing strategies. Efficiency programs need to achieve verifiable energy savings and be strategically targeted to replace the most expensive resources, said Haley Goodson, TURN staff attorney. Among other strategies, she suggested a greater focus on remote-control shutdown for air conditioners on peak days.

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