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Friday, September 25, 2009

California’s latest $3b EE plan

California has been emphasizing energy efficiency since the first oil crisis 35 years ago. Still, the belief is that the $3 billion plan approved Thursday by the state’s Public Utilities Commission is a major turning point for the state.

(With the state’s characteristic hubris, supporters also see it as a model to be emulated by the rest of the country. Given that our state government is a laughing stock for its budgetary failures, I wouldn’t hold my breath.)

In the Friday papers, the SF Chronicle has a brief note on the approval, a follow up to a preliminary analysis of the plan last month. The San Diego Union has the most complete coverage with a front page story. (I didn’t see anything on the websites of the San Jose or LA papers).

Here’s a few highlights from the latter story:
State regulators yesterday committed more than $3 billion over the next three years for programs aimed at getting people to use less energy by retrofitting 130,000 homes, training 15,000 workers and using smarter appliances.

The programs will be coordinated by California's four investor-owned utilities and paid for through electric and gas bills.

The initiatives, which are an expansion of efficiency efforts long in place in the state, mark a change in direction by moving away from rebates for devices such as light bulbs and instead making buildings more efficient.

“The focus is to shift priorities away from rebates for widgets to sustained energy savings in the built environment,” said Dian Grueneich, a member of the California Public Utilities Commission, which approved the programs yesterday.

Overall, the program represents a 42 percent increase in spending on energy-efficiency programs statewide.

For its part, the Public Utilities Commission expects to introduce a set of home-efficiency programs statewide in January, targeting homeowners and renters.

One set will focus on getting homeowners, buyers and renovators to reduce overall power consumption through better energy management. A second will focus on getting consumer electronics to use less energy. A third will aim at transforming the lighting industry, eventually phasing out incandescent bulbs.
I am curious to see whether the $3 billion goes for carrots to enable investment in energy conservation or merely more sticks.

I’m also curious what this means for PUC’s future policy towards decentralized rooftop solar. California has high insolation (and high electricity costs) that make PV inherently more cost effective here than almost anywhere in the world, but the originally budgeted PV rebates are halfway towards their eventual phaseout.

Perhaps the assumption is that the gun held to the head of utilities (i.e. the 33% RPS standard) will be enough to stimulate enough RE capacity without more specific initiatives.

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