Utility Energy Efficiency Programs in the Southwest

August 16, 2016 | Howard Geller

The major electric utilities in the Southwest greatly expanded their energy efficiency programs over the past eight years, programs that will result in their customers saving $5.5 billion net according to the utilities’ own data. These programs help households and businesses save energy through education, technical assistance and rebates, thereby increasing the adoption of energy-efficient lights, appliances, buildings, industrial processes, and the like.

Utility energy efficiency programs in the Southwest generated more energy savings in 2015 than the amount of electricity generated from solar power facilities—including both distributed and utility-scale solar power installations.”

SWEEP just completed a set of fact sheets that review the history and examine the high level impacts of electric utility energy efficiency programs during 2008-15 in five states:  Arizona, ColoradoNevadaNew Mexico and Utah, as well as a short paper summarizing this information across the region.  The fact sheets and paper take a step back from individual utility program approvals and annual reports and ask: “What are the overall impacts of electric utility energy efficiency programs implemented in the region over the past eight years?”

As shown in the chart below, the three large electric utilities in Arizona estimate their customers will save $2.5 billion net as a result of energy efficiency programs implemented during 2008-15. Customers of major electric utilities in Colorado will save about $1.3 billion and customers of the major electric utility in Utah will save nearly $1 billion. Customers of utilities in New Mexico and Nevada will save hundreds of millions of dollars. This is good news for households and businesses that are struggling to pay their bills in a tough economic climate.

Net Economic Benefits from Utility Energy Efficiency Programs, 2008-2015

All of us benefit from the ramp-up in energy efficiency programs in the Southwest in ways that go beyond lower utility bills. Utilities didn’t have to construct seven large baseload power plants thanks to the energy savings occurring as of 2015, enough energy savings to power 1.2 million typical southwestern households. All utility customers benefit from not having to pay for those new plants and the associated transmission lines.

Carbon Dioxide Emissions Reductions as of 2015 from Utility Energy Efficiency Programs

Less generation of electricity in coal-fired and natural gas-fired power plants means fewer emissions of pollutants that are harming public health, diminishing visibility in national parks and monuments and contributing to global warming. For example, utilities in the region reduced their carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2015 by nearly nine million metric tons as a result of their cumulative energy efficiency programs, equivalent to taking about 1.7 million passenger cars off the road.  The chart below shows the estimated CO2 emissions reductions in 2015 by state.

In addition, energy efficiency programs conserve another precious resource in the Southwest: Water. In 2015 alone, electric utilities reduced the water consumed by the cooling systems of their power plants by about six billions of gallons thanks to their energy efficiency programs.

Utility energy efficiency programs are an important energy resource in the Southwest, as is the case in many other parts of the country. Looking back over a multi-year period, these programs are providing enormous economic and environmental benefits to the citizens and businesses in the region. These benefits will grow in the future if the programs are maintained and—where feasible—expanded.

Howard Geller is the Executive Director of SWEEP, a public interest venture he founded in 2001. Howard also leads SWEEP’s work on utility energy efficiency policy and programs.