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12 13, 2012 by The Times-Picayune
Louisiana utility regulators have taken the first step toward implementing a statewide energy-efficiency program to develop ways to cut down on power consumption and help save money for hundreds of thousands of homeowners and businesses.
On Wednesday, the state Public Service Commission gave the green light to the initiative, which gives electric utilities and natural gas providers about a year to develop programs that will likely offer residential and business customers incentives for making improvements that lower their electricity use.
By signing off on the program, PSC members hope to follow the lead from programs offered elsewhere, like in New Orleans, which has offered Energy Smart since 2011. That program provides an in-home energy audit to help spot ways customers can make cost-effective energy-saving measures, like tuning up their air conditioners, installing insulation, sealing air leaks and upgrading appliances.
"One of the greatest ways to save energy or make it cheaper is to conserve," PSC member Lambert Boissiere III, D-New Orleans, said about the initiative.
Louisiana utilities, including Entergy Louisiana and Pineville-based Cleco Power, will have 10 months to let the state know its plans, along with estimates of potential savings and benefits to customers. The programs are slated to begin four months later.
Utilities will be required to file annual reports with the PSC that provide estimates on energy savings generated from the programs, as well as annual load reductions. The first phase, called Quick Start, will last just under four years. From there, utilities will use lessons learned from the initiative to develop longer-term plans.
Orleans Parish residents will not be eligible to participate in the program because Entergy New Orleans is regulated by the City Council, not the PSC.
The program is expected to cost utilities between $25 million and $30 million, with average utility customers paying about 40 cents per month. But for participating customers, that price tag is likely to be offset by potential savings to monthly utility bills.
A year after the launch of Energy Smart, Entergy New Orleans officials reported that more than 8,580 business and individuals participated in the initiative, estimating that the efforts helped cut electricity use by more than 15 million kilowatt-hours, enough to power 1,300 homes for an entire year.
"One of the greatest ways to save energy or make it cheaper is to conserve." -- PSC member Lambert Boissiere III
The debate at the PSC's Wednesday meeting became heated at times, frequently pitting commissioners Eric Skrmetta, R-Metairie, and Clyde Holloway, R-Forest Hill, against other board members.
"It's got more holes in it than a screen, I'm telling you, this is the wrong thing to do," Skrmetta said about the plan, accusing his fellow commissioners of rushing to a decision.
The program comes with several caveats. Heavy industrial users, which make up half of Entergy's power consumption in Louisiana, are not eligible to participate if they use more than five megawatts of electricity, or about five times the electricity used to power the average home.
Entergy Louisiana and Entergy Gulf States, in an October 30 filing with the PSC, disagreed with the prospect of excluding such customers, stating that doing so would "significantly limit opportunities to develop and test energy-efficiency programs and infrastructure targeting this customer class, and impede the development of longer-term programs based on the experience gained in the Quick Start phase."
Entergy contends in the filing that about half of the power it produces in Louisiana is used by the industrial sector.
Despite scattered objections, a majority of PSC members said they favored giving Louisiana residents an opportunity to learn more about ways to reduce their electricity costs. "We might be able to get energy to be a lot cheaper. It looks like, to me, it's a good investment, and I'm not too concerned when it comes to 40 cents," PSC Chairman Foster Campbell said.
Renewable energy advocates also supported the measure, including representatives of the Sierra Club and the Alliance for Affordable Energy, a New Orleans watchdog group. "These new rules will help Louisianians lower their energy bills and use those savings for other critical needs like medicine and food," Casey Roberts, the alliance's executive director, said Wednesday.
The initiative passed 4-1, with Skrmetta voting in favor, despite acknowledging his opposition.
In other PSC matters Wednesday, board members put off taking action on whether to start assessing various fees to solar power users across the state, and on changing the formula for how excess power produced by the panels is be sold back to the utility.
The PSC will likely take up those matters in January.
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