The California Public Utilities Commission Oct. 16 okayed almost $1 billion for utility energy efficiency programs in 2015 despite uncertainties about their effectiveness and utilities\u2019 inability to spend ratepayer money collected last year. \u201cWe\u2019re now spending a billion dollars a year and we\u2019re getting diminishing returns for each dollar expended,\u201d warned commissioner Mike Picker. He added that estimates of energy savings can\u2019t be supported through measurement. Relying on the projections could result in faulty decision-making about such things as the need for new generation and transmission facilities, he added. He cast the lone vote against the decision\u2014approved 4-1. Commission president Mike Peevey characterized the funding authorization as \u201ca bridge\u201d between the agency\u2019s past approach to efficiency and a new approach it hopes to develop. The decision acknowledges that while over collection for energy efficiency programs is not new, the amount of unspent cash for efficiency held in utility coffers has become a problem. Utilities \u201cdid not need to collect what they budgeted to cover spending for 2013\u201d and that the money may have to be returned to customers if not spent on improving energy efficiency, according to the commission. Utilities attribute the over collections in 2013\u2014totaling $306 million\u2014to the inability of their customers to afford energy efficiency in homes and businesses under increasingly stringent state codes that drive up retrofit costs. Commissioner Catherine Sandoval expressed hope that $4 million set aside for pilot projects allowing more flexibility in applying codes in efficiency funding could ease the growing impasse in spending. However, the commission\u2019s decision warned that the $306 million tally for over collections may indeed be higher because some of the money utilities spent in 2013 was collected in prior years. To get a better handle on what\u2019s actually being spent on efficiency, the deal provides for enhanced accounting methods and reviews of balancing accounts in which utilities hold unspent efficiency funds. At least for now, the commission is not ready to act on utilities\u2019 suggestion that it lower the baseline for efficiency spending. Instead, the resolution continues to insist that utilities strive to largely fund only measures that exceed increasingly stringent energy efficiency codes for appliances, heating and air conditioning systems, and building retrofits. The commission plans to review in a future proceeding whether to change the baseline used to judge whether efficiency measures are considered economical. The question before policy makers is whether to allow spending only on measures that exceed code or to allow spending on things that improve efficiency compared to \u201cexisting conditions.\u201d The commission further plans to replace its triennial reviews and renewals of energy efficiency program funding with rolling reviews adjusting spending priorities more frequently, instead for three-year periods. Under the approved spending plan, utility 2015 efficiency budgets are authorized as follows: \u2022\tPacific Gas & Electric\u2019s territory, $409.7 million; \u2022\tSouthern California Edison\u2019s territory, $332.8 million; \u2022\tSan Diego Gas & Electric\u2019s territory, $116.3 million; and \u2022\tSoCal Gas\u2019 territory, $79.4 million. While utilities administer most of the money collected in their territories, some also goes to non-utility organizations, such as Marin Clean Energy in PG&E territory, third-party retrofit programs, and state and local government partnerships. In addition, $36.1 million is earmarked for evaluating the effectiveness of energy efficiency program expenditures in 2015, including tallying how much energy is saved. Statewide, the commission projects that the spending in 2015 should save 2,203 GWh\/year and cut peak load by 354 MWh. In addition, it hopes to cut annual natural gas demand by more than 40 million therms. By utility territory, that breaks down as follows: \u2022\tPG&E aims to save 980.5 GWh\/year, 154.4 MW during times of peak demand, and 15.4 million therms of natural gas\/year; \u2022\tEdison hopes to save 983 GWh\/year and 160.3 MW on peak; \u2022\tSDG&E plans to save 239.7 GWh\/year, 39.6 MW on peak, and 2.5 million therms of gas\/year; and \u2022\tSoCal Gas expects to save 25.3 million therms of gas\/year.