Do As We Say, Not As We Do: Utilities Preach Conservation, Cut Consumer Efficiency Programs
OAKLAND, Calif. - In the five years before electricity deregulation, California utilities cut funding in half for programs that save energy, save customers money, and help save the environment. According to an analysis of federal data by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the wasted energy would supply a year's worth of power to more than 600,000 homes, and would have cost California consumers almost $450 million at pre-deregulation rates.
From 1994 to 1998, California's 43 investor-owned and municipal utilities reduced investments in consumer energy efficiency programs by 52.3 percent. EWG found that if the power companies had simply maintained efficiency investments at 1994 levels they would have saved 4.1 million megawatt-hours of electricity.
This summer the first shocks of deregulation have rocked California. Electric bills in San Diego have more than doubled, unprecedented rolling blackouts hit the Bay Area, and some days the state has narrowly avoided a full-scale statewide supply emergency. Utilities are urging consumers to save energy and asking for air pollution waivers so they can operate older, dirtier power plants.
"It's one thing for an utility to preach conservation to its customers. It's another to back it up with a real commitment to energy efficiency," said Bill Walker, EWG's California director. "Under deregulation, saving energy and saving customers money hurts a power company's the bottom line."
EWG urged the state to maintain and significiantly increase funding for consumer efficiency programs, such as rebates or tax credits for installing energy-saving technology, and take control of those funds away from the utilities who no longer have any incentive to promote efficiency.