Opponents: Duke Energy's 'Save-a-Watt' program no bright idea
Energy companies earn less money when customers are energy-efficient. To make up for the lost revenue, Duke Energy is proposing charging its 1.8 million customers a 98-cent monthly fee.Posted — Updated
Ellen Ruff, Duke Energy Carolinas president, testified Monday before the state Utilities Commission. The panel is being asked to approve Duke's energy efficiency plan.
Save-a-Watt would let the utility add an average of 98 cents per month to the bills of its 1.8 million customers in North Carolina in 2009.
The rate could go up or down in following years to help recover much of the cost of building new power plants or buying electricity, along with a profit for the company. The commission regulates the utility's profits.
"We have an opportunity – not a guarantee – of recovering our program costs and achievable earnings comparable to supply-side resources on our energy-efficient investments," Ruff told the commission.
Ruff said customers wouldn't have to pay for more expensive power on the open market if they hold down demand.
“If we're not much more aggressive about energy efficiency, we have to build power plants," added Paige Sheehan, a spokesperson for Duke Energy.
But attorneys and advocates representing the state, utility consumers and environmentalists say Duke's Save-a-Watt plan is too expensive and doesn't save enough energy – only about a 1 percent reduction by 2015.
"We agree with the company that we need to give utilities proper incentives to maximize efficiency and energy conservation in particular," said Gudrun Thompson with the Southern Environmental Law Center. "This proposal is just not going to get the job done."
“We don't think we can achieve the kind of energy-efficiency savings that we need based on the old models and old approaches,” Sheehan argued.
"The company will take the risk that its programs will perform and that customers only pay for actual results," Duke lawyer Lara Simmons Nichols said.
"That's not an energy-efficient program. That's a small drop in the bucket of the world of possibility," said Shana Becker with the North Carolina Public Interest Research Group, one of about a dozen groups that want Duke Energy to withdraw the Save-a-Watt proposal.
Duke Energy plans to call several executives as witnesses this week. The panel also will meet Aug. 18 to hear from Duke Energy chief executive Jim Rogers. It's unclear when the committee would rule.
Progress Energy is proposing an energy-efficiency program that does not include additional fees. The plan would be to split any savings 50-50 between the company and its customers. A hearing on Progress Energy's program is scheduled for September.
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