Local Governments Ready to Play in Efficiency Field

By Published On: November 18, 2011

As the California Public Utilities Commission considers revamping investor-owned utility energy efficiency programs, local governments want a greater role in the coming years arguing they can do a good job of achieving long-term energy savings. Local governments “are glad” that the commission is open to considering a greater role for counties and cities in energy efficiency, said Jody London, a consultant for the Local Government Sustainable Energy Coalition. CPUC commissioner Mark Ferron is chairing a proceeding investigating reshaping the energy efficiency program beginning in 2013. He wants to achieve what he calls “deeper retrofits” in place of the “shallow” savings achieved to date largely through compact fluorescent light bulb subsidies and appliance exchange incentives. Ferron’s interest in potentially increasing the role of local government and third parties in carrying out the energy efficiency program comes in the context of also wanting to simplify and reduce the number of elements in the energy saving effort and bring greater uniformity up and down the state. In a Nov. 8 CPUC filing, Southern California Edison attorney Larry Cope stated that the utility looks favorably on increased participation by local governments and third parties in implementing energy efficiency measures as long as utilities maintain their grip on program administration. Cope said administration constitutes “planning, oversight, and management of energy efficiency programs, including decisions on what programs to fund with ratepayer dollars.” Under the existing utility energy efficiency program, 3 percent of the $1 billion/year is funneled through 22 local programs, 10 percent goes through 87 different state and local government partnerships, and 20 percent goes through 113 different third-parties. The remainder is retained in programs implemented by the utilities. In all cases, utilities administer the programs and the government agencies and third parties implement efficiency measures and outreach efforts under agreements crafted by the utilities. San Francisco does not necessarily want to administer energy efficiency programs, but wants more flexibility in the way it implements utility-funded energy efficiency measures within its boundaries, city attorney Jeanne Sole told the commission. By crafting and implementing measures suited for its residents and businesses, the city of Berkeley between 2000 and 2010 cut aggregate electricity and natural gas consumption by 10 percent within its borders, according to Neal De Snoo, city energy program officer. London notes that much has changed since the commission last took a comprehensive look at the $1 billion/year investor-owned utility energy efficiency program two years ago, when the number of cities and counties actively involved in efficiency was limited. The major change was prompted by the federal American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, which provided the state with energy efficiency program funding. With that money, the California Energy Commission teamed up with the state’s 58 counties and many local cities to create a parallel energy efficiency program called Energy Upgrade California. Announced earlier this year, the program leverages $1.2 billion for energy retrofits on California homes and businesses, including $146 million in ARRA and federal Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grant funding, $13 million in state Employment Development Department money, and $1 billion of investor-owned utility funds. The statewide program, in which many localities are deeply involved, is largely independent of exiting local/investor-owned utility partnership efficiency programs, according to London, and is achieving success. It seeks to carry out whole-house retrofits financed through third parties, with up to $4,000 of rebates. The rebates are given to homeowners after home energy audits that outline specific retrofits that cut energy use up to 40 percent. Measures range from replacing windows and heating and air conditioning systems to insulation that provides long-term savings. Work must be performed by pre-approved contractors with proper training. London believes utilities should take advantage of the counties and cities that have been particularly active in energy efficiency and let them help smaller cities that have been less involved. This would build regional energy efficiency programs that meet local needs, yet achieve economies of scale when it comes to marketing, financing, and purchasing. She suggested that the regional efforts could be managed under joint powers authorities in which local governments share resources. Local officials also note that they are well positioned to couple energy and water savings efforts and to enforce tighter energy efficiency codes for new building projects. However, they need resources to do so.

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