Commentary: Rocky Mountain Power should boost its efficiency programs

Utah has experienced a clean energy surge in recent years. This is partly due to growing investments in wind and solar energy projects, which often make headlines – and rightly so. Yet, the unsung hero of the clean energy surge is energy efficiency.

Every day, energy efficiency cuts energy use and costs through households and businesses upgrading lights to LEDs, builders constructing highly efficient new homes, homeowners purchasing Energy Star appliances and the like. Energy efficiency has been particularly impactful for Utah residents with the amount of electricity used per capita declining by 9% during 2008-2017. The decline in electricity use per person has occurred at the same time as Utah’s economy has grown.

Utah’s energy savings success is due in large part to Rocky Mountain Power’s successful energy efficiency incentive programs, known as Wattsmart. The Wattsmart program provides incentives and rebates to help utility customers choose the most energy-efficient technologies, and every dollar invested in energy efficiency saves more than $1.70 in costs to the utility.

As a regulated monopoly in Utah, Rocky Mountain Power has a statutory obligation to provide “least cost” and “least risk” electricity to its customers, and helping improve energy efficiency is the best way for Rocky Mountain Power to do this. The utility’s energy efficiency programs lower customers’ energy bills, make homeownership and running a business more affordable, reduce the operation of polluting power plants and generate economic benefits to Utah’s economy. In fact, the Wattsmart energy efficiency programs that Rocky Mountain Power implemented during 2008-2017 provided over $1 billion in net economic benefits for the utility and its customers.

Unfortunately, Rocky Mountain Power scaled back its cost-effective energy efficiency programs starting in 2018. Fewer customers participated and the energy savings achieved as a result of the utility’s programs declined by 24 percent between 2017 and 2018. And energy savings could continue to decline in 2019.

By failing to maximize investments in energy efficiency, Rocky Mountain Power is increasing customer bills over what they would otherwise be, which is especially detrimental at a time when the cost of rent and the cost of housing are at record highs. In addition, power plants operate more as energy efficiency efforts falter, meaning more air pollutant emissions and adverse impacts on public health and the environment. Power plants also consume large amounts of water and thus water consumption increases when energy efficiency efforts decline.

What’s more, Rocky Mountain Power is nearing completion of a new resource plan that could call for further rollbacks to the amount of electricity savings that the utility is targeting from its energy efficiency programs in both the short and long term. If the rollbacks are approved, Rocky Mountain Power will decrease the financial incentives and other assistance it provides to its customers to help them adopt energy-saving practices and technologies. This would occur at a time when the major utilities in nearby states such as Colorado and Nevada are ramping up, not ramping down, their energy efficiency programs.

We encourage Rocky Mountain Power to look at how its energy efficiency programs have positively impacted countless Utah families and businesses, and to recognize how instrumental their programs are in keeping Utahn’s power bills low, protecting our environment and growing Utah’s economy. Please join us in urging Rocky Mountain Power to increase, rather than decrease, its energy savings programs and targets now, and over the next 20 years.

To find out how you can help, contact: Kevin Emerson, Utah Clean Energy, 801-903-2029, kevin@utahcleanenergy.org

Kevin Emerson is the Energy Efficiency Program director at Utah Clean Energy, a non-profit public interest organization based in Salt Lake City.

Howard Geller is the executive director of the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, a public interest organization based in Colorado.