Paying It Forward
Sometimes technical expertise and cutting-edge innovation are what's needed. Other times, the most helpful thing is money, and public power utilities provide plenty of that as well, through generous rebate programs rewarding customers who implement energy-saving projects.
Austin Energy in Texas is just one example. The utility provides rebates of up to $200,000 per business site to help businesses pay for efficiency upgrades ranging from lighting improvements and window treatments to more efficient motors and air-conditioning systems, according to general manager Roger Duncan. During the most recent fiscal year, more than 600 businesses took part in the program, reducing their peak consumption by more than 14 megawatts. That's enough to power 10,000 homes.
Like many public power utilities, Silicon Valley Power has a menu full of rebate programs. There are new construction incentives, LEED rebates for energy-efficient building design, rebates for installing solar equipment, and rebates for optimizing data centers. The utility has incentives aimed at encouraging the installation of more efficient commercial washers, better chillers, greener HVAC equipment, and more energy-conscious food service equipment. And there are deals that promote use of improved lighting, a popular area through which many utilities boost efficiency.
Incentives and rebate programs save money not only for the users but for the utility, says Duncan. If it became necessary to build a new power plant to generate the kind of electricity that efficiency projects save, it would cost a lot more than what the utility spends on incentives. "Energy efficiency is the most cost-effective way to meet new load growth," he says. "Our program costs us about $350 per kilowatt of avoided peak demand, which is less than half the cost per kilowatt to build an efficient natural gas-fueled power plant."
That's the philosophy in Seattle, as well, according to strategic advisor Scott Thomsen of Seattle City Light. "Seattle City Light has found that its incentive programs can save energy for about a third of what it would cost to go out and acquire new energy resources," he says. "By keeping costs down, Seattle City Light is able to keep its rates low."
With that idea in mind, Seattle City Light in 2009 is expanding its assistance programs aimed at helping commercial, industrial, and residential customers achieve greater energy efficiency. As part of its five-year Conservation Action Plan, the utility is investing $185 million to double the community's energy savings. "Once all of the initiatives are in place, Seattle City Light will be investing seven times the national per-capita average on conservation," says Thomsen. "Conservation has been the first resource of choice for Seattle City Light for more than 30 years. Every kilowatt-hour of electricity that we avoid using through energy-efficient technologies reduces our impact on the environment while saving customers money."