Energy Adviser: Why utilities want you to save energy

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Businesses rarely ask you to spend less. In fact, they usually want you to spend more. Every customer-loyalty program offering coupons or reduced gas prices is encouraging you to buy. That’s because commercial businesses use an economic model based on generating profit.

Clark Public Utilities and other public utility companies operate using a different economic model. They don’t exist to make a profit. Instead, rates are set to cover maintenance and operational expenses and annual budgets are designed to break even. This approach is unfamiliar to many and can make a utility’s financial goals seem counterintuitive.

Public utilities aren’t profit makers, because their communities own them and they operate for the good of those communities. That’s one reason public utilities urge customers — their owners — to consume less energy.

Clark Public Utilities has been investing in energy efficiency for years. They offer free, in-home energy reviews to suggest ways to cut energy waste. Rebates are available for high-efficiency appliances, from heat pumps to washing machines. Business owners can receive incentives for upgrading their buildings with energy-efficient lighting or state-of-the-art controls for heating and cooling systems. Incentives also are given to customers to use light-emitting diode (LED) or compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs. Old refrigerators can be recycled for free, and you get a $30 credit on your electric bill. And when that CFL burns out, you can recycle them for free and receive as many as six new ones per household.

And, it’s working.

“In the four years between 2010 and 2013, our customers saved 241 million kilowatt-hours,” said Larry Blaufus, the senior manager of customer accounts and energy services for Clark Public Utilities. “That’s enough to power 17,600 new homes.”

Secondly, reducing energy waste decreases environmental impacts. The Environmental Protection Agency calculates the average home consumed about 120 megawatt-hours of electricity in 2012. As a result, more than 1,300 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour were released into the air. Using less power lowers greenhouse gas emissions and is easier on the environment.

By encouraging its customers to use less energy, the utility doesn’t need to buy or generate the energy that would have been used. In that way, conservation is the most cost-effective investment in the utility’s power supply.

Thirdly, there’s a legal reason. In 2006, Washington voters approved Initiative 937, the Energy Independence Act, which became a state law. This law requires utilities with more than 25,000 customers to pursue all cost-effective energy conservation and to “use eligible renewable resources or acquire equivalent renewable energy credits, or a combination of both.” The law also sets defined goals for energy conservation.

Utilities can use alternative sources to meet the renewable energy goals. Options include biomass, wind, tidal waves, solar and geothermal. The law is very explicit about the ratio of generated alternative energy relative to the utility’s energy capacity and the deadlines utility companies face. Renewable energy goals are set at 3 percent of their annual load alternative energy by 2015; nine percent annually between 2015 and 2019; and 15 percent by 2020.

“Cost caps are also in the law to protect utilities and their customers from large rate increases” Blaufus added.

So saving energy not only helps reduce public utilities’ power costs, it reduces fossil fuel use, lowers greenhouse emissions — and lowers customers’ electric bills. Many energy-efficient upgrades — such as eliminating drafts through weatherization — also will make your home more comfortable.

Want tips on cutting energy waste at home? Call an energy counselor five days a week during business hours at 360-992-3355.


Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.