Though it\u2019s still summer, a faint evening chill and my daughter\u2019s impending return to college turned my thoughts to Christmas. In a flight of fancy, I recalled the movie Scrooged, in which comedian Bill Murray played a media mogul, a modern day version of Dicken\u2019s Ebenezer Scrooge. In pursuit of ever higher television ratings, Murray alienates his family, friends, and colleagues only to redeem himself after seeing the three ghosts of Christmas. The tale has a message for California\u2019s new strategy to improve energy ratings for buildings, appliances, and countless electronic and natural gas powered devices. The strategy could deliver direct energy cost savings to the multitudes or, like Murray, it could play the role of a modern day Scrooge, driving up the cost of energy for everybody, except the few who can afford to make it into the zero net energy sphere. The outcome depends heavily on whether the regulators crafting the plan learn from the ghosts of Christmas. Consider the problem of The Ghost of Christmas Past. Over the past three years, utilities have achieved most energy savings through lighting programs. For the average household, this largely means they handed out or subsidized and promoted compact fluorescent light bulbs in place of incandescent bulbs. This cut energy use, but like a lump of coal, the bulbs don\u2019t burn forever. After three years or so they need to be replaced. When they are, there\u2019s no added energy savings just an additional expense. Now, sometime before Christmas, the California Public Utilities Commission is expected to rule on two energy efficiency plans. The first covers the period 2009-11 and the second the time from 2012 though 2020. Under the first, utilities plan to cut energy use by about half as much as they have over the past three years at twice the price, notes the Division of Ratepayer Advocates. To pay for the savings, ratepayers are being requested to pay more for utility service. The increase is small, yet hard to accept for many amid all the talk about how energy efficiency saves money. What\u2019s more, the rate increase for energy efficiency comes on top of rate hikes planned for upgrading the state\u2019s power grid, plus the expectation of higher fuel costs to make power and heat. Call this problem The Ghost of Christmas Present. In the second long-term plan, the CPUC is calling for major reductions in energy use. The CPUC calls it \u201cbig, bold\u201d energy savings. New buildings would be constructed as zero net energy structures. Existing commercial buildings would be retrofitted to achieve zero net energy use, meaning they would be made super efficient and outfitted with distributed energy generation systems, like rooftop solar panels, that meet their remaining energy needs. Building codes would be rewritten with emphasis on energy saving features all enforced by local governments. New jobs would be created. We hear the upside, but where\u2019s the big, bold thinking about how to pay for it all? It appears that ratepayers, households, builders, and cities would have to shell out of their own increasingly threadbare pockets for most of it. Call that the problem of The Ghost of Christmas Future. On paper, and in computer models, energy efficiency measures save money because they cut future energy spending more than they cost today. But after the compact fluorescent bulbs are screwed in, coughing up the cash for the wall insulation, the new windows, and solar panels is difficult for most. Take windows, for example. I found out a retrofit in my house would cost as much as a new car, meaning a new loan. This curbed my enthusiasm about improved R-values. Like most middle class folks, rather than borrow more or spend hard earned savings, I\u2019ll simply pay the coming rate increase, wear a sweater in winter, and sit on the porch on hot summer evenings. Also, while energy efficiency aficionados praise the merits of enforcing tighter codes for building envelopes and heating and air conditioning system installations, cities can barely enforce today\u2019s codes, much less the more complex and demanding codes envisioned for the future. Municipalities have neither the staff, nor the expertise. There is little, if any, money to hire more inspectors or train existing staff. At many city halls it\u2019s a question of whether to pay the police and fire fighters or fill the pot holes and replace the collapsing sewer lines. Ask yourself which would come first in the mind of the local city council members and you can see where energy efficiency fits into the hierarchy of needs in local communities. I say none of this to belittle the merits of energy efficiency, only to point out that after setting the lofty goals the state\u2019s energy policy makers must marshal the money--so often euphemistically referred to as resources in the world of government--needed to reach them. The limits of ratepayer-backed programs are appearing on the horizon. Winning public confidence and backing over the long haul is the key to success. To do so, regulators must assure that the costs and benefits of the programs are distributed equitably. Ultimately, this is likely to take new taxes and fees, for instance on carbon, to fund efficiency and other green energy programs in a way the benefits the average person directly. So by focusing on how to finance energy efficiency for the many, state regulators can avoid the fate of the Christmas ghosts and create a joyous season for all.