What do the N.C. Justice Center, the City of Durham, the N.C. Council of Churches, Clean Water for N.C., and N.C. WARN have in common? The answer is concern for the public welfare, the economy and the public health. A coalition of these organizations, plus 9 others from the anti-poverty, consumer, and environmental communities, called N.C. SAVE$, has proposed that the N.C. Utilities Commission establish an independent (non-utility) administrator for a state wide energy efficiency and conservation program.
The road to this collaboration is the result of decades of disregard of the mandate from the North Carolina Utilities Commission that our public utilities, Duke Energy and Progress Energy, “…include use of the entire spectrum of demand-side options, including but not limited to conservation, load management and efficiency programs…” (N.C. General Statutes: § 62-2. (3a))
Lack of investment
The result of this disrespect from investor-owned utilities is that N.C. ranked 46th out of 50 states in spending per capita on energy efficiency and conservation measures — a meager 44 pennies per person or $3.8 million for the whole state.
A 2007 decision to allow Duke Energy to build a huge new coal-fired Cliffside power unit required the company to spend 1 percent of its income on efficiency. Duke proposed “Save-a-Watt” as their efficiency program.
But the program offers almost nothing to reduce energy costs for those least able to afford these rising costs. Even the Public Staff of the Utilities Commission, after their own analysis and a public hearing, has determined that Save-a-Watt costs too much, gives Duke too much profit, and does too little to promote conservation and efficiency.
A conflict of interest
Are we surprised? The facts are clear. Investor-owned utilities have an inherent conflict of interest in promoting conservation and efficiency. Their technical and business expertise resides in producing and distributing electricity. They make good profits from this model and will lose money if they promote conservation and implement significant demand side reductions.
The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy reports that states should be spending 10 to 30 times what N.C. utilities are spending to make a significant impact on energy demand.
It is obvious that the public utilities in our state are unable and willing to do what is necessary to move North Carolina into a clean, sustainable energy economy.
There is another way. A study (www.cwfnc.org) showing efficiency programs run by independent public agencies or non-profits demonstrated that the independent administrators accomplished large reductions in energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions. In New York, participating homes were saving an average of $225 a year on utility bills.
The SAVE$ plan
N.C. SAVE$ is asking the N.C. Utilities Commission to create such an independent administrator.
We propose that this will be funded initially by a small fee on electricity bills or public bonds, lower than the fees that customers would pay under Save-a-Watt, and producing far greater reductions in energy use.
A fee of less than $1 per month per household, plus corresponding charges to businesses, industry, and natural gas customers would generate over $100 million per year to promote the programs that will help transition us to a cleaner and more economically dynamic energy economy.
The administrator would be a not-for-profit organization or an existing public benefit organization.
Waiting for leadership
Energy efficiency and conservation are the safest, healthiest, cheapest way to transform our energy economy.
The green job economy is waiting for our state leadership to step up to the plate. N.C. SAVE$ is providing a proven path for the Utilities Commission to follow.
Every local economy will be stimulated as homes are weatherized, appliances upgraded, and energy efficiency devices are installed. Local businesses will grow. Living wage jobs will be created. The programs can target low-income households and include renters, unlike “Save-a-Watt.”
The elderly can be protected from escalating energy costs.
We must face reality. We are in a drought, and climate change will make it worse. Coal and nuclear electric generation wastefully withdraw more water from our rivers and lakes than all other uses combined.
Furthermore, there is no such thing as “clean coal”. It is dirty, polluting our air and lungs, and contaminating our waters with mercury.
The bottom line is clear. The less energy we use, the healthier our air and waters will be.
Efficiency and conservation will significantly reduce outdated, careless, and harmful methods of producing energy.
Our economy, public health, and climate are calling out for an independent energy efficiency administrator. Join N.C. SAVE$ in advocating that the N.C. Utilities Commission do the right thing.
To learn more check out www.ncsavesenergy.org/