Landmark Policy Helped Tens of Thousands Save During Record Cold

Energy Savings Programs in Jeopardy Moving Forward

CoPIRG Foundation

Denver, December 9th – Faced with record-breaking cold weather over the last week, tens of thousands of Coloradans had lower energy bills and warmer houses thanks to the energy savings programs offered by utilities like Xcel Energy, a requirement of a landmark energy efficiency bill passed in 2007. According to a review of Xcel Energy’s 2012 Colorado Energy Efficiency Report by the consumer group, CoPIRG Foundation, over 1 million customers took advantage of programs that helped them improve the efficiency of their homes and businesses that can reduce energy bills by an average of $500 per year.

“Last week’s record cold is just the opening bell of winter here in Colorado. Coloradans that have taken advantage of the programs that Colorado’s landmark energy efficiency bill required will have much lower energy bills and much warmer homes,” said Quinn Chasan, Energy Associate for the CoPIRG Foundation. “They’re benefiting from simple, energy saving techniques like better insulation and efficient windows, which can result in hundreds of dollars in avoided costs.”

In 2007, the Colorado General Assembly passed a landmark energy efficiency policy requiring energy savings goals for the for-profit utilities in the state. Implementation and updates to the law by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) over the next several years pushed Xcel Energy and Black Hills Energy to develop energy efficiency programs that achieved over 800 million kilowatt-hours of savings per year by 2011, or the equivalent of 100,000 households energy use every year and even more savings since then.

This landmark policy was the primary reason Colorado jumped from 24th place in 2008 up to 12th place in 2011 in the annual state-by-state energy efficiency scorecard released by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE). However, not only has there not been major statewide policy since 2007, but Xcel Energy is proposing to scale back the energy savings programs that have saved over 2.2 billion kilowatt-hours of energy and $250 million in energy bills for their customers.

“Energy efficiency programs have a wide range of benefits and when developed cooperatively are a triple win. Xcel Energy, the largest utility in the state, has saved so much energy over the last few years it has reduced the need to build a new power plant,” said Justin Wilson, Executive Director of the Denver-based Western Clean Energy Campaign. “This is a huge benefit that often gets lost in the conversation surrounding energy efficiency. Aside from the savings to consumers on their energy bills directly, Coloradans also avoided the cost of building the new power plant, which costs hundreds of millions of dollars – a cost that would be passed on to us.”

Xcel is arguing that the low-hanging fruit has been picked, and that it is getting harder to find more avenues for energy savings. Lance Wright, a Denver Energy Efficiency Consultant and the Vice President of Passive House Alliance U.S. (PHAUS), disagrees. “If you listen to what many Utility Companies, and some government agencies, are saying you might be convinced that there is a technology gap that can only be closed by small, incremental improvements in building design and construction practices over the next few decades. The Passive House Energy Standard is proving that tomorrow’s goals are here today.”

The coalition walked through a model home pointing out the simple upgrades that are available right now including:

·      Insulation: Xcel Energy created a rebate of up to 20% of $300 for insulation in the home, a vital tool for keeping costs low in the winter, as poor insulation can make a home lose up to 25% of their heating energy.

·      Windows: Here in Colorado, ENERGY STAR estimates that replacing home windows with more efficient models can save up to $266 for single-paned windows and $115 for double-paned windows every year. The City of Fort Collins Utility provides rebates for these window replacements, up to $2 per square foot up to $600 total.

·      Furnaces: Hitting your heating bill more directly, Xcel Energy also offers a grant of up to $120 for efficient furnaces, which can be over 20% more efficient than standard furnaces, letting you spend less each day to heat your home.

This spring, the PUC will decide whether investor-owned utilities like Xcel Energy can scale back their energy savings programs for 2015-2020.  In addition, several other non-regulated utilities around the state are considering whether to move forward with aggressive programs of their own.

“The recent cold is a reminder that efficient homes and businesses can pay off big in the winter,” said Chasan. “And the last few years show that when the state sets strong energy efficiency goals, Coloradans benefit. We should continue to move forward, not backward, and it’s time for the state to take another big step forward on energy efficiency. It saves money, creates jobs, reduces pollution, and can keep us warmer for less in these long winter months.”