Energy Efficiency: Back on the Chopping Block | Conservation Law Foundation

Energy Efficiency: Back on the Chopping Block

Ben Tettlebaum

One year ago, CLF was fighting to ensure Maine’s energy savings champion – Efficiency Maine Trust – could receive the funding needed to reduce your electricity bill, create clean-energy-sector jobs, strengthen the economy, and lower greenhouse gas emissions. CLF and our allies won that battle.

But the war is not over. This year, the fight turned to whether Efficiency Maine will receive the funding needed to maximize the benefits of energy efficiency for all consumers, as the law requires.

Yesterday, the Maine Public Utilities Commission approved a settlement agreement that ensures that won’t happen over the next three years. The settlement puts in a place a three-year plan that falls far short of achieving the full promise of energy efficiency. Because this settlement violates the law and cuts against the best interest of Mainers, CLF has committed to fight for a better deal.

Energy Efficiency Is Good for Us All

We’ve explained before why energy efficiency is so critical, but it bears repeating.

Every day, we all pay for energy we don’t actually need. That means wasted resources spent generating that energy (think drilling for oil or natural gas), transmitting and distributing energy (think building expensive power lines), buying energy (think paying your electric bill), consuming energy (think using a halogen bulb instead of an LED), and ultimately polluting our air, water, soil, and climate.

Imagine if, instead, we simply used less energy, while still enjoying the same comforts and services we all rely on every day.

Eureka! That’s energy efficiency. An elegant solution to a thorny problem. By having consumers pay a tiny amount up front on their electric or gas bills as part of the funding for energy efficiency programs run by Efficiency Maine, we all end up saving a considerable amount of money and resources.

Just how much savings, you ask? Every $1 spent on energy efficiency yields between $2 to $3 in savings. Take a look at a few achievements made by Efficiency Maine with a modest budget just in its fiscal year 2015:

  • Reduced annual energy bills of Mainers by more than $30 million.
  • Created more than 500 clean-power sector jobs.
  • Saved enough electricity to power more than 36,000 homes (that’s more homes than in the entire city of Portland).
  • Cut more than 21 million tons of climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Avoided using the equivalent of more than 26 million gallons of oil.
  • Created more than $240 million in energy benefits over the life of the energy efficiency projects.

How can Maine afford not to invest more in energy efficiency?

The Current Battle

Efficiency Maine works on a three-year budget cycle. Every three years, it proposes a new budget to fund its next three years – and that budget must be approved (or rejected) by the Public Utilities Commission.

Even before last year’s fight with the PUC over fully funding Efficiency Maine, the Commission had a less-than-stellar record of supporting efficiency initiatives. In 2013 – the last time Efficiency Maine went before the PUC with a proposed three-year budget – the Commission slashed the budget by 25%. Since then, the legislature has amended the law to make clear that the PUC must maximize energy efficiency savings.

But despite this mandate, the PUC is once again putting funding for energy efficiency on the chopping block.

Efficiency Maine submitted its current three-year budget plan to the PUC at the end of 2015. Initially, the PUC’s staff recommended cutting Efficiency Maine’s already modest proposed budget by more than 20%. In fact, despite its own consultants’ recommendations to the contrary, the PUC sought ways only to reduce energy efficiency, not opportunities to increase energy savings.

Stepping into the Fray

CLF, along with other groups, got involved in this case from the start. Throughout the proceeding, CLF has fought to stop the PUC from cutting funding for proven, successful programs that benefit people’s wallets, Maine’s economy, and our environment.

After months of negotiations with the PUC, several of the intervening parties agreed to a settlement plan to fund Efficiency Maine. While CLF was at the negotiating table throughout the long process, we ultimately opposed the plan derived under the settlement. While the settlement plan takes several positive steps forward, in the end it offers too little and sacrifices too much.

Here’s why:

  • Under the settlement, the three-year plan leaves more than $250 million of lifetime savings on the table. That’s something Mainers simply can’t afford.
  • The settlement plan relies on confidential energy forecasts to determine the budget instead of the study that is the accepted best practice across the region. The law requires the PUC to rely on regional best practices. Every other state relies upon this study, and every New England state’s public utilities commission participates in the development of this study – except for the Maine PUC.
  • The settlement fails to follow best practices for determining energy savings, as required by law. Instead, it relies on faulty assumptions that work only to cut energy-saving measures from Efficiency Maine programs.

We know that Maine can do better – and that Mainers deserve more. CLF is committed to fighting for a better deal for the people of Maine and we will continue our push for an Efficiency Maine Trust that is fully funded and fully empowered to do its job.

Before you go… CLF is working every day to create real, systemic change for New England’s environment. And we can’t solve these big problems without people like you. Will you be a part of this movement by considering a contribution today? If everyone reading our blog gave just $10, we’d have enough money to fund our legal teams for the next year.

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Energy Efficiency

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