FirstEnergy to detail progress of energy efficiency programs - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

FirstEnergy to detail progress of energy efficiency programs

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Updated Aug. 27 to correct Sawmiller's past work experience and to clarify questioning that took place during the hearing before the Public Service Commission of West Virginia.

How much are Monongahela Power's and Potomac Edison's energy efficiency efforts, new in January this year, helping customers reduce use and save money on their electric bills so far?

We will find out by Sept. 1, when FirstEnergy's West Virginia operating companies are due to file status reports on the effectiveness of their programs.

The companies, which serve roughly the northern and eastern parts of the state, implemented a Phase I Energy Efficiency and Conservation program Feb. 1 as mandated by the Public Service Commission of West Virginia in 2010 and approved by the commission in its details in December.

The Phase I plan specifically aims to reduce total system demand by 0.5 percent from the 2009 level of about 13,300 gigawatt-hours and to reduce system peak demand by 0.5 percent from 2009's 2,700 megawatts.

The program has two parts: a residential low-income program and a high-efficiency lighting program for commercial, government and industrial customers.

Reductions would come through light bulb, faucet aerator and shower head replacements in low-income homes — those within 200 percent of the federal poverty level — along with refrigerator replacements for those who qualify and with partial energy audits.

And at the commercial and industrial level, the program promotes high-efficiency lighting.

The 0.5 percent reduction targets would be reached in five years.

Programs unimpressive

On approving the program in December, the commission said it was not "overly impressed" with the proposal in comparison with plans filed by AEP in West Virginia and by FirstEnergy elsewhere.

It misses some "low-hanging fruit," the commission wrote — for example, subsidies encouraging customers to purchase compact fluorescent bulbs, such as the program proposed by the AEP companies that saves an impressive 20.7 kWh per dollar spent.

"If similar results could be achieved for the (FirstEnergy) companies' customers, those energy usage reductions would greatly outpace the projected 7.7 kWh/$ spent for the Commercial Lighting Efficiency and 1.5 kWh/$ spent for the Residential Low Income elements included in the proposed plan in this case," the commission wrote.

FirstEnergy's West Virginia proposal was "incredibly weak," according to policy analyst and Energy Efficient West Virginia Coordinator Cathy Kunkel.

"In Pennsylvania, they were required to get 1 percent of savings in two years, so 0.5 percent in five years isn't much," Kunkel said.

"There's nothing available to the residential customer class if you're not in the low-income program," she pointed out. "And some easy things like appliance rebates or free energy audits that Appalachian Power does in West Virginia aren't available."

Compare poorly with programs in other states

Further comparative detail was available from Daniel Sawmiller, formerly with the Ohio Consumers' Council and, with Kunkel, a witness before the commission in this case for the West Virginia Citizen Action Group.

"FirstEnergy operating companies in Pennsylvania have achieved nearly 0.5 percent of savings within 18 months of operation — the same goal they're proposing to meet in West Virginia over five years," Sawmiller said.

"When ... asked about it on the stand, they said Pennsylvania and Ohio have Energy Efficiency Resource Standards, so there's a law that requires them to do that there," he said. "They're not saying it can't be done here. They're saying, ‘No one's forcing us so we're not doing  it.'"

Company spokesman Mark Durbin told The State Journal at the time, similarly, that the company did not offer more in West Virginia because there were no Energy Efficiency Resource Standards.

Unlike the piecemeal approach West Virginia is taking, states that have passed Energy Efficiency Resource Standards mandate given levels of energy reductions and timelines. The utilities, often with the assistance of broad-based advisory boards, then design programs themselves to meet the targets.

Experience has shown that utilities can achieve targets far more aggressive than those FirstEnergy proposed in West Virginia. Under Ohio's Energy Efficiency Resource Standards, for example, FirstEnergy exceeded a mandated reduction in 2011 of 0.7 percent, Sawmiller said.

And over the same five years that FirstEnergy offers to reduce use by 0.5 percent in West Virginia, all Ohio utility companies have to reduce use by 0.8 percent in 2012, 0.9 percent in 2013 and 1 percent each year through 2018 — a cumulative five-year reduction of more than 4 percent.

To look at it in terms of dollar costs and benefits, AEP reported spending $112 million in Ohio from 2009 through 2011 to achieve projected life-cycle energy savings of $738 million, according to Sawmiller.

Significant reductions have been achieved in many other states, too.

"An American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy report showed that, in 2010 alone, out of 20 states that they reviewed, only four didn't exceed 0.5 percent of savings in just one year," Sawmiller said.

The way FirstEnergy arrived at the two programs it offered in West Virginia is that they were suggested by the commission, he said — suggestions that weren't meant to limit or to be prescriptive, but only to exemplify the kinds of things that might be done.

"At the end of the day, they have all this experience and they're hiding it from West Virginia," he said.

The energy efficiency programs of FirstEnergy's West Virginia companies are detailed here; details also are available about the more extensive programs offered in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The upcoming report

To keep track of program effectiveness, the commission required that the FirstEnergy companies file a status report by Sept. 1

The report is to include the results of evaluation, measurement and verification efforts and progress toward the achievement of the energy and peak demand reduction targets, as well as customer participation levels and energy and demand savings compared with baseline information.

Kunkel said she would like to see the commission follow that report by ordering the companies to adopt additional programs, "bring them up to speed relative to the rest of the utilities in the region."

The Dec. 30 order does not say what action the commission might take, if any.

To follow the case, visit www.psc.state.wv.us and, at the left, choose case information or set up a case subscription for docket number 11-0452.

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