Utilities should seek energy efficiency first - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Utilities should seek energy efficiency first

Posted: Updated:
Stacy Gloss Stacy Gloss
Cathy Kunkel Cathy Kunkel
  • Local NewsLocal NewsMore>>

  • UPDATE: Route 2 now open following tractor trailer accident

    UPDATE: Route 2 now open following tractor trailer accident

    Monday, August 25 2014 4:00 PM EDT2014-08-25 20:00:48 GMT
    A tractor trailer is blocking part of Route 2. The road is closed until further notice. Drivers heading in both direction are being asked to use the Big Ben Bowen Highway connector by Target to get around.
    A tractor trailer is blocking part of Route 2. The road is closed until further notice. Drivers heading in both direction are being asked to use the Big Ben Bowen Highway connector by Target to get around.
  • ColumnsMore>>

  • Understanding the quiet man behind the manic genius

    Understanding the quiet man behind the manic genius

    Tuesday, August 26 2014 6:00 AM EDT2014-08-26 10:00:18 GMT
    I met Robin Williams 32 years ago at a bar in Italy. He must have been about 31 and had lived almost half of his life, although we didn't know it at the time.I was sitting at the bar with my ex-husband.
    I met Robin Williams 32 years ago at a bar in Italy. He must have been about 31 and had lived almost half of his life, although we didn't know it at the time.I was sitting at the bar with my ex-husband.
  • Can creative nonfiction save newspapers?

    Can creative nonfiction save newspapers?

    Tuesday, August 26 2014 6:00 AM EDT2014-08-26 10:00:18 GMT
    Journalists give the essence of the story in the clothesline lead. They have been taught to begin a news story by telling the reader who, what, where, when, why and how. Any good journalist knows what the inverted pyramid is.
    Journalists give the essence of the story in the clothesline lead. They have been taught to begin a news story by telling the reader who, what, where, when, why and how. Any good journalist knows what the inverted pyramid is.
  • Celebrating economic success, fiscal responsibility

    Celebrating economic success, fiscal responsibility

    Monday, August 25 2014 6:00 AM EDT2014-08-25 10:00:22 GMT
    I am pleased to once again meet with members of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, business and industry leaders and community representatives at the 2014 Business Summit. During our discussion, I plan to provide a summary of West Virginia's recent economic successes, as well as an overview of ongoing opportunities and future areas of expansion for our state.
    I am pleased to once again meet with members of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, business and industry leaders and community representatives at the 2014 Business Summit. During our discussion, I plan to provide a summary of West Virginia's recent economic successes, as well as an overview of ongoing opportunities and future areas of expansion for our state.

Stacy Gloss is project manager for Energy Efficient West Virginia, a project of WV-CAG. Cathy Kunkel is president of Kunkel Energy Research and consultant to WV-CAG.

It may seem odd for electric utilities to offer energy efficiency programs — after all, they are in the business of selling electricity. However, from a customer's standpoint, it makes a lot of sense. What we pay to the electric company reflects the utility's costs of generating electricity or buying it from other generators. If the utility can find cheaper sources to generate electricity, those savings are passed through to their customers. Utilities around the country have found that it is cheaper to invest in saving electricity than it is to generate that same amount of electricity. 

West Virginia's electric utility companies have just begun to invest in energy efficiency over the past few years. Mon Power and Potomac Edison, FirstEnergy's subsidiaries in West Virginia, have been ordered by the Public Service Commission to submit, on or before Sept. 1, their plan for the next phase of their energy efficiency program implementation in West Virginia.

Over time, the savings from energy efficiency programs can really add up. In the Pacific Northwest, for example, energy efficiency has met half of the growth in electric demand that otherwise would have occurred since 1980, and there is still plenty of untapped potential. In other words, utilities in that region have avoided the need to build about 5,400 MW of generating capacity — the size of nearly two John Amos power plants, for comparison. The savings achieved by avoiding the cost of new generation are spread among all utility customers. 

Utilities can invest in energy efficiency at a cost around 2 to 3 cents per kilowatt-hour saved, which is less than half the cost of building a new power plant. Energy efficiency investments are also less expensive than generating electricity from existing power plants. Here in West Virginia, Mon Power and Potomac Edison propose to purchase the Harrison plant. where electricity generation costs an estimated 7.4 cents per kWh. 

Utilities can invest in energy efficiency in many ways. In Ohio, for example, American Electric Power offers more than a dozen different programs that range across residential, commercial and industrial customers. A handful of examples include recycling old, inefficient refrigerators and freezers at no cost; providing low-cost home energy assessments with rebates for improvements; providing businesses with incentives for more efficient lighting, HVAC, motors, food processing equipment and refrigeration; and providing training and technical assistance for large industrial customers.

In West Virginia, Mon Power and Potomac Edison began offering two energy efficiency programs in 2012. Only low-income residents may qualify for a program that provides free installation of CFLs, faucet aerators, low-flow shower heads and possible refrigerator replacement. Businesses can apply for incentives for more efficient lighting. It's a pretty bare bones set of programs when compared to what utilities are offering in other states. 

In its order approving the utilities' efficiency programs in 2011, the Public Service Commission stated that it was "not overly impressed" with the utilities' proposal and the commission ordered the utility to file a "Phase II" plan by Sept. 1 of this year. The commission also ordered Mon Power and Potomac Edison to convene stakeholder meetings prior to the Sept. 1 filing. 

West Virginia Citizen Action Group is one stakeholder group participating in this process. WV-CAG has argued, in the context of Mon Power and Potomac Edison's proposal to purchase the Harrison power plant, that utility customers would benefit by greater utility investments in energy efficiency and that the utility should have considered expanded investments in energy efficiency as part of its planning for meeting its long-term resource needs. WV-CAG believes that utility customers would spend less money on their electric bills with a strong energy efficiency program resembling programs of American Electric Power and FirstEnergy subsidiaries in Maryland, Ohio and Pennsylvania. WV-CAG's recommendation is for the utilities to be required to adopt targets for ramping up their energy efficiency program, then issue a request for proposals from a more experienced third-party administrator whose core business is designing and implementing energy efficiency programs. There's no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to common practices in energy efficiency program delivery in the electric utility industry across the U.S.