Energy, Water Utilities Address Joint Efficiencies

By Published On: July 21, 2006

Energy and water utilities in California are expected to stake out their positions on how to couple efficiency programs in comments due at the California Public Utilities Commission July 24. “It’s something we haven’t really thought that much about,” said Fred Curry, CPUC water branch and division chief. “It certainly seems to be catching on now.” The commission regulates water utilities as well as investor-owned energy utilities. Key among the nexus of issues between utilities are whether to award electric utilities with energy-efficiency credit for “embedded” water-efficiency measures that save energy and how to account for those energy savings. Also at issue is when to begin offering such credit, in the course of the current 2006-08 program or not until the 2009-11 cycle. Those issues were discussed by the state’s major electric utilities and water districts in a July 17 workshop in the Los Angeles area, said Sean Wilson, CPUC regulatory analyst. Allowing electric utilities to claim energy credit for water savings potentially would open the door for their large efficiency budgets to flow to water districts, which have comparatively small efficiency funds, said Curry. “It’s easier to work with them [electric utilities] than the balkanized water system in California,” said Curry. The state’s water utilities include more than 8,000 entities. CPUC staff envision that joining the two types of utilities’ programs will stretch limited money to meet demand for the two necessities in the face of explosive population growth. However, there is still some “lack of understanding and detail around the connections” between water and energy, said Bill Miller, Pacific Gas & Electric principal regulatory analyst. The CPUC’s proceeding will refine that understanding and allow energy and water utilities – which have cooperated sporadically in the past – to work together in the future on a “more sustained” basis, he said. Water utilities have had trouble getting many businesses to prioritize water savings because their water bills are low, he said. Combining energy and water savings would be of greater interest to many businesses because their energy bills generally represent a higher cost factor, Miller explained. Joint water and energy efficiency programs most likely will first target urban areas, where energy use is most intense, and then eventually move to rural areas, where farms remain the largest water users, Miller said.

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