Charleston Area Alliance Taking Lead in Showing East Enders How to Stop Thinking Like Consumers — APCo & PSC Holding Them Back

The State Journal has a story today about how the Charleston Area Alliance is kicking off a competition designed to teach people on Charleston’s East End how to develop strategies to cut their energy use.  It’s a great idea, but as the Charleston Gazette’s Jim Balow pointed out in his story yesterday:

A key to the program is the free energy audit — the HomeSMART energy assessment — offered by Appalachian Power, which identifies places where your home is wasting energy and suggests ways to improve efficiency.

You can sign up for an audit at the meeting Tuesday night, do it online or call Apco, Naumoff said.

However, the state Public Service Commission limits Apco to auditing no more than 20 homes a month, which could create a bit of a bottleneck.

“I would think if there’s a huge, huge demand, I would hope they would re-evaluate that,” she said, “but it’s also an incentive to sign up early.

Once again, we have a perfect example of a community initiative that is way out in front of power companies and regulators.  As a result of Energy Efficient WV’s intervention in APCo’s last rate case, the WV PSC required that APCo put in place a largely ineffectual efficiency improvement program.  The program was minimal, but it was an important first step.

As part of APCo’s efficiency program, the company provides a free “HomeSMART energy assessment” to APCo customers.  The problem is that this is just a walk through assessment, not a real energy audit.  The assessment largely consists of someone walking through your house and telling you what light bulbs to change and what appliances you should switch to Energy Star appliances.  There is very little direct assistance in the APCo program that actually helps rate payers finance any improvements.

And, on top of all that, according to the WV PSC order, APCo can only do 20 of these assessments per month.

Pathetic.  Let’s hope that the Charleston Area Alliance can hold APCo’s feet to the fire.  If APCo won’t lead, at least they can follow.  One thing is sure, the PSC and APCo are certainly in the way.

4 thoughts on “Charleston Area Alliance Taking Lead in Showing East Enders How to Stop Thinking Like Consumers — APCo & PSC Holding Them Back

    • I don’t think it did, actually. In 2011, according to Appalachian Power’s evaluation of their program, they did 1280 assessments, which is a lot more than 20/month.

      • Cathy,

        You would know, you were there. Could it be that a newspaper reporter got something wrong? (That’s never happened before.) Or could it be that APCo is not giving people accurate information about their own program?

    • The answer is simple. APCo charges the costs of these assessments to their rate payers. Because APCo isn’t really interested in having an effective efficiency program, they see this program only as PR window dressing. The real problem is that the WV PSC isn’t really committed to efficiency either. Because it isn’t integrated into their evaluation of overall power capacity in WV, they don’t see efficiency improvements as actual resources that they can use to eliminate the need for new generation. With Integrated Resource Planning, the PSC would have to tools to force power companies to create real efficiency programs, but last year, Sen. Palumbo, of Kanawha County, blocked consideration of an effective IRP bill by the Sentate Judiciary Committee in the WV Legislature.

      The fact is, according to the WV draft Energy Plan published on the WV Dept. of Energy Web site, energy efficiency programs cost rate payers about 3 cents per kwh, while new generation capacity costs between 7 and 10 cents per kwh. Aggressive efficiency programs will easily pay for themselves, if they are implemented aggressively.

      Rate payers should be charged for real efficiency programs because they save everyone money. Power companies in regulated states like WV have a legitimate problem, however. These companies, like APCo, are allowed to recover their overhead and capital costs through a rate charge called the base rate. Because those costs are recovered based on the kwh actually sold, when efficiency programs reduce power purchases, power companies can’t recover all their base rate costs. That is why a lot of states now use something called “decoupling” to decouple recovery of base rate costs from the actual amount of electricity that is used and sold.

      In WV, the WV Dept. of Energy’s draft plan advocates decoupling, as do EEWV and other supporters of aggressive energy efficiency, because it would remove the base rate cost recovery problem from the efficiency equation in WV. Both the PSC and the WV Consumer Advocate have resisted both decoupling and real energy efficiency programs, because they treat them only as sideshow PR programs and not investments that are integral to the WV electrical system. The PSC and CAD would allow decoupling, so they say only that efficiency programs cost rate payers too much in a very narrow, short term, and incomplete analysis. They don’t look at the cost of efficiency programs as a substitute for the cost of new generation capacity. And they are wrong.

      Also keep in mind that APCo recently filed a plan with the PSC that claims that the company has a shortage of generation capacity in WV. Instead of first trying to eliminate demand for electricity by instituting aggressive efficiency programs, APCo completely ignored efficiency and jumped right to asking for the right to charge its WV rate payers to add new coal-fired power plant capacity, which we know costs more than twice as much as real efficiency improvements.

      So the PSC would rather handcuff energy efficiency than invest in proven investments to reduce electric bills. So what makes sense in their limited world, makes no sense out here in the real world.

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