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Energy efficiency savings may drop in the future

FILE - Transmission lines near 700 West and 9000 South in Salt Lake County Friday, Oct. 16, 2015. Energy efficiency savings add up, not only to individual wallets but to PacifiCorp, which counts it as a "resource" to meet nearly all its new customer deman
FILE - Transmission lines near 700 West and 9000 South in Salt Lake County Friday, Oct. 16, 2015. Energy efficiency savings add up, not only to individual wallets but to PacifiCorp, which counts it as a "resource" to meet nearly all its new customer demand. Some advocates are concerned, however, that changes may be looming to popular programs.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Even as residential energy use continues to drop across the six states serviced by PacifiCorp, the utility company predicts that over the long-term, energy efficiency savings won't be as big of a factor.

That scenario concerns clean energy advocates, who worry that PacifiCorp may decrease incentives that encourage customers in Utah and elsewhere to use less energy and keep more cash in their wallets.

"We don’t fully understand why reductions are taking place given that energy efficiency continues to be a cost effective and affordable energy resource," said Utah Clean Energy's Kevin Emerson.

That organization and others are looking to weigh in on PacifiCorp's newest Integrated Resource Plan, which has been submitted to the Public Service Commission for review.

Every two years, the electricity provider maps an exhaustive blueprint modeling energy needs for the next two decades.

This year's plan notes that residential energy use per customer is changing, brought on by increases in energy efficiency due to 2007 federal lighting standards, a shift from single family to multi-family housing units and the trend of replacing older appliances with more efficient ones.

But as those trends become a more permanent fixture in the energy landscape, it is likely that less savings will be realized over time because of a "ceiling" that's reached, said Rocky Mountain Power spokesman David Eskelsen.

"There's technological limits to some of energy efficiency measures," he said. "When you run a program for some time, as we have, those energy efficiency measures become standard."

The 2015 plan said PacifiCorp expected to meet 86 percent of the new demand or growth with energy efficiency savings. The 2017 plan anticipates a slight uptick in that percentage — 88 percent — even as there is less savings realized over the next 10 years.

Emerson, Utah Clean Energy's director for energy efficiency programs, said groups are concerned that because PacifiCorp anticipates less energy efficiency savings, that will translate to changes in programs like "wattsmart" that encourage the use of energy efficiency technologies.

"We don't know what the details look like, but it means the program will change in some way," he said.

Since 2008, the program has reduced energy use by 2.2 billion kilowatt-hours and saved Utah families and businesses an estimated $1 billion in electricity costs, according to an analysis by the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project.

Those energy efficiency savings helped Utah move up three spots in a national ranking of states by the American Council for an Energy Efficiency Economy. Utah, according to the 11th annual report, was among the top 10 states for most improvement, coming in at number four. Overall, it tied for 17th place in the state by state rankings.

Eskelsen said PacifiCorp is not proposing to make any changes to the pot of money available for energy efficiency incentive programs like wattsmart.

"Our commitment to energy efficiency as a resource remains very strong," he said. "The (Integrated Resource Plan) is a very holistic approach to customer needs. It is designed for the company to pick the least cost, least risk ways for the company to meet the needs of customers in the market."

The Integrated Resource Plan notes that even as the population across PacifiCorp's territory will grow at an annual rate of 1 percent through 2026, new construction will use more energy efficient appliances and gas instead of electricity for space and water heating.

The plan also anticipates more diversification of energy resources and boosting efficiencies through:

• Upgrading more than 900 megawatts of existing wind plants with larger blades and newer technology to generate 20 percent more energy

• Beginning construction on a segment of the Gateway West 500-kilovolt transmission line for additional wind generation, improvement in efficiency and relief of transmission congestion

• Facilitating construction of up to 1,100 megawatts of new wind projects

As the resource plan continues to wind its way through the regulatory process of the Public Service Commission, groups like Utah Clean Energy, the Sierra Club, the Renewable Energy Coalition and HEAL Utah plan to weigh in on its complex components.

"We think this document is extremely important in making sure we make the right decisions for the future of energy," Emerson said. "There are specific parties who have an interest in how that blueprint looks."