Energy Efficiency: The Cleanest, Cheapest Energy Resource

SELC is pursuing an aggressive strategy to spur utilities to invest in energy efficiency programs, which curb power consumption and demand.

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New report shows solar, energy efficiency outcompete nuclear in meeting Georgia’s energy needs More »

A recent report shows that replacing the Plant Vogtle nuclear expansion with new investments in solar power and energy efficiency would be less risky, more affordable, and more than up to the job of powering Georgia’s economy.

Once deemed the most prudent path forward for Georgia’s growing energy needs, Plant Vogtle has now priced itself out of the market. Already delayed by at least three years and billions of dollars over budget, the Vogtle project hit a new snag in March when the contractor, Westinghouse, declared bankruptcy, raising fresh doubts about the project’s viability.

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For the first time since construction commenced, Georgia regulators have begun openly to question whether the Vogtle project can be completed and, assuming it can, whether continuing is worth the steadily mounting costs.

With the project at a vital crossroads, SELC and partner Vote Solar saw the need for an objective assessment to review where we are, how we got here, and the potential implications of halting construction, so they reached out The Greenlink Group.

The conclusion of The Greenlink Group’s report: stopping the project won’t harm Georgia’s electric customers and, in fact, customers would reap more immediate benefits from continued in-state investments in energy efficiency and solar resources.   

Georgia regulators’ smart investments in solar power and efficiency programs over the past few years have laid the groundwork for these resources to outcompete Vogtle now. Energy demand projections—the basis for the new units’ approval nine years ago—have since been met through greater efficiency measures and increasingly affordable solar power.

The result: even without the Vogtle units, Georgia will have more than sufficient capacity to meet its growing economy’s electric needs through 2030. 

While the Vogtle units continue to add to customers’ bills (the average customer is already paying $100 per year in financing costs alone), energy efficiency and solar are having the opposite effect. For example, Georgia’s recent solar investments are projected to save customers hundreds of millions of dollars in avoided energy costs over the next few decades.

“If ever there was a time for Georgia to boost its investments in efficiency and solar programs, that time is now,” said Kurt Ebersbach, Senior Attorney in SELC’s Atlanta office. “After years of paying for units that may never deliver a kilowatt-hour of electricity, Georgia consumers need the very real bill relief that those investments would afford.”

A crucial decision point for Vogtle is quickly approaching, as Georgia Power (which owns the largest share of the project) and Westinghouse are expected to conclude negotiations over the project’s fate later today.

“Here’s the silver lining in Vogtle’s cloudy outlook: the Georgia Public Service Commission’s strong leadership on solar power has laid the foundation for solar to come to customers’ rescue now,” said Katie Ottenweller, Senior Attorney and leader of SELC’s Solar Initiative. “Shifting to solar at this pivotal moment is the most prudent decision to protect Georgia customers, meet any increases in energy demand, and deliver dependable bill savings.”

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Energy efficiency is the cleanest, cheapest energy resource. Efficiency helps lower customer bills, reduces emissions of carbon and other air pollutants, and creates jobs. Yet despite these proven benefits, the energy efficiency efforts of electric utilities in the Southeast lag behind those of utilities in other regions.

To help bring the benefits of energy efficiency to our region, SELC is pursuing an aggressive strategy to spur utilities to save more energy through efficiency programs, such as incentives to upgrade lighting, heating and cooling systems so that customers can meet their power needs with less electricity. Our strategy to help the Southeast transition to a cleaner energy future includes promoting energy efficiency for the many benefits it offers, making the business case for efficiency to utilities and their regulators, and working with utilities to create financial models that remove disincentives and provide incentives that encourage customers to save energy.   

Our work in the Carolinas has helped push the nation’s largest utility, Duke Energy, to roll out its “Save-A-Watt” program, the first large-scale portfolio of energy efficiency programs in the region, and emerge as the energy efficiency leader in the Southeast.  We are making headway with other utilities and in other states, as well. In Tennessee, our advocacy helped prod the Tennessee Valley Authority to take a big step forward by treating energy efficiency as a resource that competes directly with natural gas and coal. Because TVA is not regulated by a state utility commission, we are engaging directly with TVA, local power companies and end-use customers to advocate for smart program design, rate structures and other policies that will reduce customers’ electric bills, prevent unwise capital investments, and cut carbon pollution.  In Georgia, we have secured commitments from the state’s largest utility, Georgia Power Company, to develop new and better programs to serve low-income customers, including those residing in multi-family housing.  This will bring energy saving benefits to historically underserved communities for whom energy costs can be a significant burden.  

But there is still much work to be done. In Virginia, we will continue to promote the benefits of efficiency in our work before state regulators and with Dominion Power and Appalachian Power. In Georgia, we will continue to play a prominent role in the Public Service Commission’s Demand Side Management Working Group to push Georgia Power toward higher levels of annual energy savings.  And in Alabama, where progress on efficiency has been hampered by a lack of formal proceedings, we will continue to look for ways to make the case for sensible energy efficiency measures that help customers save money. 

 Across the region, we are engaging with electric cooperatives and municipal utilities, which provide power for up to half the customers in some of our states and serve many low- and moderate-income households. To bring the benefits of energy efficiency to these southerners, SELC is coordinating with its partners to advocate for on-bill financing programs and other measures that allow customers to avoid the up-front cost of major efficiency upgrades, such as new heating and cooling equipment.  SELC is also weighing in at the national level on the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, bringing our regional perspective to advocacy for greater reliance on low-cost energy efficiency as a keystone in state strategies to reduce carbon pollution from power plants.