Energy Efficiency

Report details impressive Calif. public power efficiency efforts

California’s public power utilities have reported energy efficiency investments of almost $1.6 billion since 2006, with benefits to customers approaching $3 billion after accounting for the cost of the programs, a return of nearly $3 for every $1 invested, according to a new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The report, Powering Forward: Publicly Owned Utilities Are Critical to California’s Energy Efficiency Progress, tracks the efforts of 38 California public power utilities to save energy and money through efficiency programs since 2006 when the results of those programs began to be tracked.

“One of the most important observations in the report is that energy efficiency programs translate into jobs,” said Barry Moline, executive director of the California Municipal Utilities Association. While energy efficiency investments generally reduce sales of power, the savings customers realize flow back into the community and, in addition, the energy efficiency work itself is often done by local companies, Moline said.

The report noted that more than 320,000 Californians have jobs related to energy efficiency and over half of them spend a majority of their time providing energy efficiency services. In addition, more than 70 percent of energy efficiency companies are small businesses, meaning that most of these jobs are local and benefit the area economy.

“We are happy the NRDC did the report, and we are continuing to find out what works,” Moline said. “We are going to continue to evaluate and expand the programs that work so our communities and our customers can benefit,” he said.

“The conclusions from the report are strong in that it shows we are making significant investments in energy efficiency, and they are having a large impact,” Moline said.

The report said that California’s 38 public power utilities, which supply about a quarter of the state’s electricity needs, “play an important role in advancing energy efficiency to ensure the state meets its ambitious environmental goals while also saving customers money.”

The NRDC report noted that although California’s public power utilities have been providing electricity-saving programs to their customers for decades, they only began formally reporting savings to the California Energy Commission in 2006.

The NRDC’s analysis based on the reports shows that since then, the public power utilities have collectively:

  • Saved nearly 6,500 GWh of electricity;
  • Eliminated the need for two large, 500-megawatt power plants; and
  • Invested nearly $1.6 billion in these programs -- four times the amount invested in 2006 -- which saved customers nearly $3 billion after accounting for the cost of the programs.

Moreover, the report noted that since 2006, public power utilities in California have collectively cut more than two million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

California’s public power utilities have helped customers save electricity through a variety of energy efficiency programs, such as funding appliance rebates for the purchase of more efficient models, upgrading customer buildings with efficient windows and insulation, and providing energy-saving options to low-income customers free of charge, the report noted.

The NRDC said that through these and other programs, more than half of the state’s public power utilities met their average targets over the last three years, with many public power utilities of all sizes greatly surpassing expectations.

In 2017 alone, California’s public power utilities invested more than $220 million in efficiency programs, 46 percent more than in the previous year, to help their customers save energy. This is the highest year’s worth of public power utility investments on record in California and more than four times the amount invested in 2006, the NRDC said.

Last year, public power utilities in the state set new 10-year electricity-saving targets that, if met, will save 8,000 GWh by 2027, the report noted.

The report’s authors say there are additional measures public utilities can take to save customers even more money and to cut pollution even further. Those measures include exploring new ways programs can serve every customer and expanding services for low- and middle-income customers, making sure programs are evaluated periodically, and improving the current target-setting process by clearly defining which assumptions are being used to set targets and why.

The report is available here.

CMUA serves more than 40 electric and 40 water agencies statewide. Today, CMUA members collectively provide electricity to 3.2 million California customer connections, about 22 percent of electricity delivered in the state