Opinion

Regulators wisely nudge Colorado toward greater energy efficiency

Author: Zach Pierce - April 27, 2018 - Updated: April 27, 2018

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Zach Pierce

Thanks to a decision on April 11 from state electricity regulators, Xcel Energy now has stronger energy efficiency goals that will save Coloradans roughly $165 million between 2019 and 2023 while also lowering pollution from coal and gas plants. The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) directed Xcel, Colorado’s largest electric utility, to raise their energy efficiency ambitions after hearing expert testimony from Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Colorado Renewable Energy Society, and the Colorado Energy Office.

We all want to spend less money, consume fewer resources, and protect our environment, and the most effective way to do all three is to use energy more efficiently. Many of us waste money on our electricity bills because we forget to turn off lights, we use old power-hungry appliances, or we have poorly insulated homes that require us to crank up the heat or air conditioning. As a result, our electric utilities have to spend more money burning more fossil fuels at power plants, which also adds more pollution into our air and water.

The Colorado Springs Gazette editorial board said it best in a recent editorial: “Pollution is waste, and waste costs money.”

Thanks to recent investments in energy-efficiency programs and technologies, energy consumption has flatlined in the U.S. even as the economy continues to grow. Since 2009, Colorado’s private gas and electric utilities have cut demand by 564 megawatts, which is roughly equivalent to the size of one of the state’s coal-fired power plants.

Not only do energy efficiency investments save money and reduce pollution, but they create thousands of jobs. Here in Colorado, about 30,000 people work in the energy efficiency industry. However, despite Colorado’s progress, we rank 18th in the country for energy efficiency programming, so we have a big opportunity to create more efficiency jobs that help lower our bills and result in less pollution coming from power plants.

Our state legislature and PUC have equipped Colorado with all the tools to lead the country in energy efficiency programming. Last spring, the legislature authorized the PUC to set new, 10-year energy savings goals for utilities. Meanwhile, the PUC made a decision, called “decoupling,” allowing utilities to increase efficiency programming without unduly hurting their bottom line.

If the utilities fully take advantage of these decisions, we can fulfill Gov. Hickenlooper’s 2017 Executive Order, Supporting Colorado’s Clean Energy Transition. This order set a goal to achieve efficiency savings equivalent to 2 percent of electricity sales per year as part of broader efforts to address air pollution, reduce the state’s contribution to climate change, and diversify and strengthen our economy.

Now it’s time to put these tools to use to make sure efficiency opportunities benefit all customers, including low-income people burdened by high electricity bills and those suffering most from the pollution spewing from power plants.

In the past, Xcel has encouraged efficiency by giving rebates to homeowners who improve the insulation in their homes, replace old light bulbs with LEDs, and make use of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program that reduces the energy consumed by our appliances.

Xcel achieved their energy efficiency goals before, and we will all benefit from them doing so again.

The Trump Administration, unfortunately, has proposed slashing the budget for the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy by more than two-thirds in each of the last two years. Here in Colorado, thanks in part to the PUC, we remain committed to increasing energy efficiency to spend less, pollute less, and create new jobs.

Zach Pierce

Zach Pierce

Zach Pierce is the senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club Colorado Chapter's Beyond Coal Campaign.